Brooks: Jones Has Bar Set High As CU High Jumper
BOULDER - That Mark Jones is in Eugene, Ore., preparing to compete in the 2013 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships isn't an enormous surprise. He's always set his sights high and he's had a prolific second season at Colorado as a high jumper.
What might be a shade more surprising than Jones being in Eugene this week was his landing in Boulder two years ago. He's reluctant to say that coming to CU to high jump ran counter to his roots, but you can decide for yourself.
Jones, of Summit, N.J., comes from a family of high jumpers. That includes his dad, Robert, and his mom, Susan. Both jumped at Cornell, which also had the Jones' son, Doug, a swimmer, among its enrollees.
Following the family into the Ivy League was a consideration for Mark Jones, but when decision time arrived he "just felt like doing something different . . . besides, I liked the mountains, liked the coaches and the team. Really, it was a perfect fit."
That's exactly the way CU jumping coach Lindsey Malone describes her recruitment of Jones as well as the Jones family's outlook in seeing their son head far away to the Rocky Mountains rather than remain in the neighborhood (relatively speaking) and attend their alma mater.
Despite their affinity for Cornell, Robert and Susan applied no pressure to Mark, which Malone said was evident from their initial meeting.
"Just fantastic people," she said. "They were supportive of him and me, which made it a very enjoyable recruiting process. He seemed to be a fit personality-wise with all the student-athletes we recruit . . . really seemed like everything I was looking for."
Jones credits his father for being the biggest influence on him - "He kept me motivated" - in high school, and Malone recognized their bond during Mark's recruitment. And she couldn't help but notice the Cornell connection, but this much she's learned about pursuing prospects: "I discovered early that even my reaction to who else might be recruiting any of these (prospects) can influence them . . . I don't know if any recruiter can feel comfortable even if you feel like he or she (prospects) and your school are a perfect fit."
And it wasn't like Jones' college options were sparse. In addition to CU and Cornell, Michigan and Virginia called early and often, recognizing the high school potential that made him a two-time national champion. He cleared a then-personal best of 7-00.25 in 2011, making him and his dad the only father-son duo to clear 7-0 in high school.
But in the end, the 6-8 Jones signed on with CU and good things have followed. Malone believes more are on the way: "Mark's completely transformed. He's buying into short-term goals, which will help with the long term. He can see great things ahead - and they can happen."
After tying for 12th at the 2012 Pac-12 Championships, Jones has steadily improved. He won a pair of meets this season and finished second on three more occasions, including the 2013 Pac-12 Championships in May.
In that competition, he jumped a personal best 7-2.5 - the third-best jump ever at CU and the best since March 24, 1990 when Jason Dudley reached 7-3. Not coincidentally, Dudley was the school's last high jumper to compete in the NCAA Outdoor Championships. Bill Jankunis is CU's high jump record holder at 7-4.
If being in the NCAAs is a new experience, the renowned Eugene track and field scene isn't new to Jones. He's competed at Hayward Field a couple of times before as a high school athlete and at last year's Pac-12 meet.
But he concedes, "It's pretty cool being here. But I feel like I've seen it before and I'm trying to treat it like another meet. You jump so many times during practice and at other meets that in a meet like this you just have to make yourself stay focused and calm."
Probably helping in that regard will be the arrival of his parents from New Jersey before he jumps for the first time on Friday. "After I qualified," he chuckled, "they said, GÇÿYeah, we'll drop by.'"
But qualifying wasn't a breeze. At the NCAA West prelims two weeks ago in Austin, Texas, Jones finished in a three-way tie for 11th (6-11.50). With 12 student-athletes advancing to the NCAAs, there was a jump off for the last two spots. Jones rose to the occasion and advanced.
"I was pretty pumped . . . still am," he said. "I'm going to the NCAAs as a sophomore. I'll just be trying to do the best I can."
Over the long haul, Malone wants Jones' best to come in small increments. They've targeted an improvement of three centimeters (about an inch) a year for him, which Malone says "seems like a doable goal. He's on pace for that - really, he's above pace."
If Jones can achieve that, his fifth year at CU will coincide with the 2016 Olympic Trials. Jones wants to be there and Malone believes if he improves in their specified increments he has a shot. It would require him redshirting next year or the year after, but they've discussed it and CU head coach Mark Wetmore is on board with that plan.
Said Jones: "Who doesn't want to go to the Olympics?"
But the more immediate challenge is this week in Eugene, and Jones' goal is to reach All-American status with a top eight finish in the field of 24. "If I can get 7-4 I can do it," he said.
The NCAA's best jump this season - a formidable 7-8 - belongs to Kansas State's Erik Kynard at the Mt. Sac Relays. Not far behind is a 7-7.75 by Indiana's Derek Drouin at the Penn Relays. The Pac-12's top jump this season - 7-5.75, which is third nationally - is by Arizona's Edgar Rivera-Morales.
Jones, who played basketball and was a sprinter/long jumper before settling into high jumping, calls Kynard and Drouin "in a whole other league . . . I feel like my league is Arizona (Rivera-Morales) and a few other schools. I feel like I can compete.
"I definitely notice how far I've come (at CU), and I credit (Malone) for keeping that motivation going. You can never get a perfect jump every time, but that's the goal. I'll keep chasing that."