As an SM East junior in 2012, Prairie Village native Grace Pickell set a new Kansas 6A record in the girls high jump, clearing 5’ 10.5” inches.
This past weekend, she showed signs that she’s nearly ready to move past that personal best performance — a state high school record that still stands — and make a name for herself at the college level.
Pickell is now in her sophomore year at the University of Kansas, where she won last weekend’s Jayhawk Classic, the team’s final indoor home meet of the season. Pickell cleared 5’ 9.25”, edging out teammate and close friend Colleen O’Brien for the meet win, and setting a personal record at the college level in the process.
Pickell describes the transition from high school to college athletics last season as “overwhelming,” with little understanding of how intense the training regimen would be as a Division I college athlete until she was in the thick of it.
“You really don’t know what to expect until you get there,” she said. “You leave high school where you’re kind of at the top among the jumpers. And then you get to college and you’ve got to learn everything again. In my mind, I wasn’t expecting it to be as hard as it was.”
Pickell’s highest jump her freshman year was 5’ 7.25”, a feat she achieved early in the season before seeing her production tail off.
“It was kind of downhill from there,” she said.
But with a year of college experience under her belt and her body adjusting to the rigors of collegiate training — with emphasis on strength training and conditioning in addition to jumping technique — Pickell said she’s more motivated than she’s ever been and has her sights set on blowing past her personal record.
Seeing some familiar faces in the stands has helped. Chuck Sulzen, the recently retired longtime SM East track coach, attends many of the close meets, and the two email frequently. (Sulzen was a track coach at SM East when Pickell’s father Tim ran for the Lancers in the late 1960s). Sulzen doesn’t do any real coaching for Pickell anymore — he leaves that to the KU staff — but he does try to let her know she still has fans back home.
“She is a very positive person,” Sulzen said. “Her senior year at East, she was dealing with a couple of leg ailments, and you could see she was still growing her freshman year at KU. But you can see those hard workouts are starting to pay off.”
And her confidence is growing as well. Last season, the prospect of clearing a 6’ jump — the target for any high-level female jumper — seemed far away. This season, Pickell thinks it’s within her reach.
“Everybody’s goal is to jump 6’ at some point,” she said. “This year I feel more prepared to do that. I could be this year. It could take longer. But I think I can get there.”