Second in a 5-part series on top athletes coming to the 2016 NBNI.
Tara Davis – Triumphs on big stage in Cali
Few performances at the 2015 World Youth Championships last summer could match the 21-0.25 come-from-behind winning long jump by Team USA’s Tara Davis for great drama … and few reactions and subsequent celebrations could equal Davis’s for pure, unbridled joy. Unleashing a bit of her inner diva, the Agoura, CA then-junior gave dozens of professional photographers and smart phone amateurs plenty of memorable moments as she reveled in an unexpected American gold medal and enjoyed her coming-out party as a world-class athlete. Davis had been very good in reaching 19-9.5 as a frosh in 2014, and winning the Simplot LJ in early 2015, but don’t forget that she was 2nd or 3rd in some major meets later that spring, battling behind fellow Golden State greats like Courtney Corrin (see below). That made the Cali triumph even more significant.
This past fall, Davis trained with the NSAF’s Project Triple Jump – she was a WY finalist in that event, too, with a 42-8.2 PR – at IMG Academy and made significant progress. She then hit the indoor circuit early this winter, not yet in top form, and suffered a couple defeats. But a few weeks ago back at the Simplot Games again, Davis won a terrific battle with Pan Am Juniors champ and Texas rival Samiyah Samuels, landing a US#1 and near-PR 20-10.75. She also smashed her 60m hurdle PR with an 8.34 victory. At NBNI, she will contest all three events, but that long jump – with four other 20-footers, including Samuels and Corrin – should be truly electric. It will be the first time Davis has jumped against Corrin since last June’s state meet, so the sparks should be flying.
Armand Duplantis – A rocket ride to a record
As a young Armand (Mondo) Duplantis continued to set national pole vault records, year after year, as a elementary- and middle-school-age student, most reasonable pundits presumed he would challenge for the indoor and outdoor class records as a freshman and sophomore, then possibly for national honors and records as a junior and senior – provided he avoided burnout, handled any growth spurts, stayed healthy, etc. … you know, all of the things that youth athletic prodigies deal with as they’re trying to live up to expectations. All that said, it’s very unlikely that anyone – other than those closest to him – could have foreseen what happened in ’15: Making 17-feet routine, contending for national titles as a freshman, beating all of the top preps at least once, then capping it off with the World Youth title in Cali.
And, given all of that, what’s transpired this winter is STILL mind-boggling. Mondo still hasn’t plateaued, still keeps getting better and as of February 6 of his sophomore year, he has vaulted higher indoors than anyone in prep history – scaling 18-0.5 (5.50m). Last winter, he passed up NBNI, but in the spring he was a strong 3rd at NBN) behind the two guys who had taken turns breaking the HSR a few months earlier, Paulo Benavides and Deakin Volz. It’s thrilling that he’s going to be in New York, for the first time since he won Millrose last February, and if he breaks his own record it will be the 3rd straight year the HSR has been broken at NBNI (Volz last year, Devin King in ’14).
Courtney Corrin – Hoping to return to the top
When it’s all said and done this coming summer, prep jumps fans will likely look back at Courtney Corrin and acknowledge one of the great all-time, start-to-finish careers in the sport. If it seems like she has been a high-school long jumper forever, that’s probably because as a 9th-grader in 2013, she was already at the top – leaping a US#1 21-0, going unbeaten through NBNO and the World Youth Trials, then suffering her only loss in the WY Final in Donetsk. That meet, it turned out, marked the start of a tough string of major-meet defeats, even though Corrin’s performances dropped off little, if at all. In 2014, she was beaten in the super-tough California state champs by Margaux Jones, then was 2nd to Donetsk silver-medalist Keturah Orji at NBNO.
In 2015, Corrin got better again – consistently hitting high 20s and some wind-aided marks in the mid-21s. She ruled the Golden State again, and won the first Caribbean Scholastic Invite contested in Cuba, but ran into Kate Hall at the NBN meets – with Hall needing to break a 30-year-old national record to beat Corrin in Greensboro. Corrin then scored a terrific win at USA Juniors, only to suffer a tough loss to Samiyah Samuels fine effort at Pan Am Juniors. So that brings us to 2016. Corrin is finally a senior at Harvard-Westlake, CA and headed to USC. There are stars like Samuels and 2015 World Youth champ Tara Davis (above) in her path and it will be thrilling to see whether Corrin can return to the very top!
Jaron Brooks – Building on fantastic ’15
It’s hard to believe that barely 13 months ago, no one had ever heard of Jaron Brooks outside the Bluegrass State. He had jumped 6-4 as a sophomore in 2014, with an 8th–place finish in his state outdoor meet at 6-2. Then in February of 2015, everything changed during a 2-week stretch as the Henry Clay HS then-junior soared 6-10 at an Indiana club meet, then 7-1 in the big U. of Kentucky Invite. Suddenly he was the national leader and everyone wanted to know about him. Brooks would provide plenty of opportunities for that; he came to New York and captured the NBNI title, earning an invite to the Caribbean Scholastic in Cuba. After sweeping through his outdoor season at home, he triumphed in Havana at 6-11.5, then completed an NBN double with a 7-1.5 in Greensboro.
Seeking an even bigger stage, Brooks earned a Team USA vest at the World Youth Trials with a runner-up finish behind Darius Carbin, then was 5th to Carbin’s 3rd at the WY Champs in Cali – not quite what he wanted, but a solid finish to a long, breakout year. Brooks inked with Auburn and – free of some nagging injuries – has set out to make 2016 better than ever. He’s PR’d twice already, including a 7-2 in a triumphant return to the UK Invite, then a 7-2.5 at Marshall U. in WV. Brooks will be joined by no less than Carbin himself at NBNI in a World Youth reunion and some great competition as he tries to defend his title.
Carson Dingler – On the verge of high 13s
For someone who’s still just a junior in high school, Carson Dingler has been pole vaulting very well for a long time. She was winning middle school and/or Junior Olympic titles as far back as 2011. She went over 12 feet for the first time three months before she started her prep career. During her freshman year at First Presbyterian Day School in Macon in 2014, she was pretty consistent between 12-6 and 12-9, and had a landmark performance at the Mobile Challenge of Champions, when she scaled 13 feet for the first time. She repeated that feat in winning the Golden South Classic several weeks later. Then after a modest start indoors in 2015, Dingler had a monster 13-6 in her outdoor opener on Feb. 28, 2015.
Since that point, however, further improvement has been elusive. But that doesn’t mean Dingler hasn’t had her moments. One of those came at the World Youth Trials last June, where she was close to her all-time best, soaring over 13-4.5 for the win and a Team USA berth. The meet in Cali didn’t go as well as she would have liked – no thanks to the squad’s poles not arriving until the end of the week – but Dingler did make the final and became an internationalist. Now, so far in 2016, she’s been over 13 feet four times – including an impressive 13-4.5 triumph at the U. of Kentucky Invitational. For more than a year, Dingler has been on the cusp of breaking through to the high 13s and closing in on 14 feet. In a year with a lot of 13-3 to 13-9 girls, but no one yet approaching record territory, NBNI may be that next step forward.
Harrison Schrage – Finally healthy, gets big breakthrough
Harrison Schrage could not have been happier with the way 2016 started. At the Arkansas Invitational in mid-January, the Grant, OR senior traveled to what will be his new home as a collegiate freshman and had the long jump performance of his career. Competing against defending Arkansas and NBNI champ Ja’Mari Ward, Schrage produced the performance of his career, leaping a PR 24-11.25 – which led the nation at the top and highlighted a great series. He has had two more meets over 24 feet since, winning Boise Indoor and Simplot, and is ranked #2 among entrants in the long jump. Schrage has come a long way since last spring.
From his freshman year in 2013, when he jumped 23-5.25 outdoors and was state 6A champ, Schrage was a special talent. His progress in 2014 was steady, as he was an NBNI All-American, then repeated as state champ with his first 24-footer (24-1.5). In early February, 2015, he improved to 24-3 indoors. But then he struggled with injury for much of the rest of the year, and his marks generally weren’t up to par through the rest of that junior. As 2016 dawned, he was finally healthy again, and the Arkansas win, consistent 24s and a co-favorite role at NBNI has been the result. With US#1 indoor LJ’er Grant Holloway passing up that event for the pentathlon and 60H, Schrage has a great chance at a gold this coming weekend.
Jalen Seals – Putting it together in ’16
With a great start to his 2016 indoor season, which has morphed into some even better early outdoor performances, NSAF Project Triple Jumper Jalen Seals has made some tremendous strides – strides that have begun to look like the resume of an NBNI All-American, or maybe even a contender for a ring. The Ft. Worth Boswell, TX junior has come a long way since his first clinic with the Project nearly 14 months ago. At that point, he was coming off a promising freshman-year campaign in 2014 where he had horizontal jump bests of 46-7.5 and 22-10.5, plus a USATF JO title. As the 2015 outdoor season dawned, he hit 47-9.25 early, but then with some injury issues struggled to improve. As he began to finally make some progress – health-wise – during the early summer, he had an important 23-2.75 LJ PR at the prestigious Great Southwest.
Since the pair of fall 2015/winter 2016 clinics with the Project, and with more health and consistent training, a new Seals has emerged so far indoors and outdoors. A late January 23-6 LJ PR at McNeese State was an early bench, but two weeks later at Great Southwest Indoor, he exploded to 24-6.5 and added his first career 48-footer at 48-0.5. Outdoors, he’s twice jumped low 24, but more importantly he exploded out to 49-6.5 in the TJ in a third meet. So in the space of a month, Seals has gone from being a national finalist-level jumper in the horizontals to an NBNI ring contender. There’s a good chance that marks like 24-6 and 49-6 will at least get top 3, if not battling for the top, so Seals should have every confidence he’s arrived and can compete with the best.
Lily Lowe – The next Kentucky HJ star
Anyone who thought that the jumping excellence coming out of a Kentucky Elite training group during the past year-plus was confined to a certain Jaron Brooks should look again. There’s a second jumper that has emerged from that group – led by Coach Eric Cooper and mentored by Olympic HJ legend Dwight Stones – who is now an NBNI ring contender. Meet Lily Lowe, a Calloway County, KY senior bound for University of Hawaii (!), who has become the top high jumper in the country not named Vashti Cunningham and who could do her part to make it a Bluegrass State sweep in the NBNI HJ. Actually, Lowe has been pretty good for a while. During the summer following her sophomore year in 2014, she improved to 5-8.75 and won the AAU JOs in the 15-16 age group.
As a junior, though, Lowe plateaued a bit, staying pretty consistent in the 5-6 to 5-8 range, but not really improving. She cleaned up in her home state, but was 9th and 11th in her NBN appearances. This winter, however, has brought bigger and better things, particularly during thee weekends in February. She cleared 5-9.25 in a meet at Ohio State, then scaled the long-sought 5-10 barrier at the TFCUSA meet in Alabama. Finally in a triumphant return to the U. of Kentucky Invite, she went 5-9, then missed thrice at 5-11. If she can maintain consistency around or beyond 5-10, an NBNI title is well within her range, as well as other honors outdoors.