Fresno State long Jumper Je’Nia Sears (above) hopes the progress she has made during her freshman year and this season transitions to a top finish in the NCAA Outdoor Championships. Photo courtesy of Fresno State Athletics
Fresno State track and field coach Scott Winsor admitted long jumper Je’Nia Sears was “raw,” but “very talented” coming out of high school.
Sears, the Bulldogs’ marquee long jumper and local product out of Fresno’s Edison High, lacked what Winsor said most high school track stars lack heading into a Division I university: understanding the specifics of the event and proper coaching.
For Sears, the former has included having to erase the instinctive mentality prep athletes develop, where “you just have a mindset of you just run down the runway and jump,” Winsor said.
It’s been working on the event’s intricacies. It’s been building strength in the weight room and speed in her takeoffs, and “learning how to slow down that forward rotation when you’re actually in the flight phase,” Winsor said.
The improvements the sophomore long jumper has made in her execution reflect the progress in her marks.
Sears’ personal best jump during last year’s outdoor season of 19 feet, 6¾ inches earned her third place in the Western Conference Athletic Outdoor Championships and qualified her for a spot in the NCAA Preliminary Round.
And the development she’s made this year in the outdoor long jump?
Sears has placed first in both of the events she’s competed in this season; though it was during the March 22-23 UC Irvine Spring Break Invitational in which she hit her best mark to date.
It was on her third try during that event – Winsor was watching the high jumps – when Sears hit a jump that measured 20 feet and 5 ¾inches.
At the time, it was the fourth-best women’s outdoor long jump in the nation.
“I was just going out there and doing what I’ve been practicing and doing what I was taught and have been learning, and it happened to come together at the right time,” Sears said.
Sears and the Fresno State women’s track and field will host Cal Poly and UNLV in the Fresno State Women’s Challenge at Buchanan High’s Veterans Memorial Stadium.
It will be Sear’s first “home” event of the outdoor season. Sears participated in the NCAA Indoor Championships on March 9 – the same day Fresno State hosted Cal Poly in a dual meet.
She finished in 15th place in the long jump, with her best mark being 19 feet and ¾ of an inch (though the 20-foot, 10 ¾-inch indoor jump she landed that qualified her for the event still takes the cake).
Sears also competes in the 4 x 100-meter (“it’s fun,” she said) and 4 x 400-meter relays, the latter of which she said she’s competed in “almost every track meet” this season as the team’s critical second leg.
“I don’t like to run the (4 x 400-meter), but I do it to help the team, so I’m OK with that,” Sears said.
“She may not believe it, but that helps her in the long jump as well,” Winsor added.
And it seems to be Sears’ willingness to run events and put in the work that has propelled her improvement, Winsor said.
Sears attributes her progressions on the runway to her improvements in her workouts and attitude since leaving high school.
“It’s all coming together,” she said.
“Not everybody can make that transition,” Winsor said. “They get discouraged when they get beat. They get discouraged when they have to go into the weight room and lift hard. That hasn’t happened to her. She’s just hit every challenge head on and she keeps plugging away, and she’s only a sophomore. You can see the results.”
Sears has high expectations in the coming months.
She wants to hit the 21-foot mark this outdoor season.
Winsor thinks it can happen: “I’ve seen a jump at the NCCAs indoors where her lead leg landed at 21-plus feet. … She just came out of it with her trail leg landing at 19.”
Sears aims to make it back to the NCAA Outdoor Championships, make it past the preliminary round and place in the finals, “because you can get there, and it is an accomplishment and you’re very happy to be there, but if you get there or you can’t perform or have anything to show for it, it’s just like ‘oh well,’’” she said.
Winsor thinks it can all happen.
“If we can control that great takeoff that she has, she can be in the hunt – and I mean in the top 5 in the country,” he said.
And Sears thinks so, as well.
It’s apparent in her answers.
When asked about her rapid reaction after jumping 20 feet, 5¾ inches at UC Irvine – 11 inches more than her personal record as a freshman – she offered this simple thought:
“I felt it could’ve been better.”