Jan. 28, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – While improving leaps and bounds in the triple jump, Jasia Richardson surely understands she should look before she leaps.
That wasn’t always the case for the Marshall women’s track and field star, however.
Richardson has one of the top 10 triple jumps nationally this indoor season for the Thundering Herd. That came after she took what was a blind leap of faith in a transfer from Radford following her freshman collegiate season.
When assistant coach Willie Johnson told Richardson he was leaving the Virginia school to join the Marshall staff, Richardson said, “Coach, I am, too.”
She knew she was coming to a school with no track and field facility, but Johnson was her jumping coach, and the two-time Virginia high school state champion from Richmond followed.
“My mother didn’t want me to transfer at first, but I’m happy I did and now she’s happy I did,” Richardson said in a Monday interview in the MU track office. “Coach Johnson is more like a father figure or older brother to me.
“He’s always pushing me, making me better. If I had stayed at Radford, I didn’t know who would be my coach. In my mind, it had to work.
“I figure as long as he’s coaching me, I’ll be OK.”
Richardson has been more than OK this month. She is 2-for-2 in triple jump victories, and in dominant fashion, both at Kentucky’s Nutter Field House.
A redshirt junior (she has this and next spring outdoor season eligibility remaining), Richardson leaped 40 feet, 10 1/4 inches to win at the Jan. 11-12 UK Invitational. This past weekend, at the Rod McCravy Memorial Meet at UK, she flew 42-4 ¾ inches for a Marshall indoor record, breaking the 42-2 set by Andrea Jackson in 2010.
Her performances were 6 and 3 1/4 inches farther than anyone else in the competitions, respectively. The Herd record distance ranks ninth in Division I in 2012-13 to date, and is the top Conference USA effort by more than 14 inches.
“They take the top 16 to nationals (March 8-9 in Fayetteville Ark.),” Johnson said. “I think it’s a good time to go ahead and book that plane ticket.”
Richardson said her goal in this weekend’s Akron (Ohio) Invitational is a 43-8.
The top women’s triple jump nationally this season is a 44-2 1/2 by Shanieka Thomas of San Diego State on Jan. 18 in a meet at New Mexico. Thomas and Andrea Geubelle of Kansas (44-1½) have the only jumps of more than 42-11 this season.
“The first meet (at UK) didn’t go quite like I wanted, but it wasn’t bad,” Richardson said. “This past weekend, I told myself I had to get a jump to make the nationals. I feel like I might be a little bit behind where I thought I’d be.
“My goal last week was 42-8. I didn’t get that, but I was happy with what I did. This week, 43-8 is my goal. I don’t short myself when setting goals. I just want to make it to nationals my last indoor year. I stay hungry, work hard every week because I know I’m someone to look out for now, (competitors) know who I am.”
Johnson recruited Richardson to Radford from J.R. Tucker High on the west side of Virginia’s capital city. The Herd assistant coach said he recognized Richardson’s potential then, and when she said she was transferring to Marshall to follow him, “it was a very humbling experience. She’s just like a daughter to me, but for her to have that kind of confidence in me, was very humbling.”
Richardson is working on a double major of sports management and marketing and psychology, and she hopes she’s past the trouble injuries that have slowed her in past seasons.
As a Radford freshman, she missed the outdoor season with a stress fracture. She’s had strong indoor seasons for the Herd in her two previous years, but she’s been hobbled by hamstring problems – while still competing “for the team,” Johnson said – in the outdoor seasons.
Last spring, Richardson would have taken the MU outdoor triple jump record but for a little bit of wind.
“She jumped a 42-2 (the Herd mark is 41-11 1/4 by Jackson in 2010), but the NCAA rule says the wind has to be under 4.0 (mph),” Johnson said. “It was 4.1 that day at Western Kentucky.”
Johnson said he thinks Richardson “could jump 45 (feet) this week. She smiled when told that, and considered some numbers when asked for a realistic goal for the rest of the indoor and then the outdoor season.
“I hope each week to learn and improve steadily on my jumps,” she said. “By outdoor, I hope to consistently be 44 to 45 every meet, by conference (USA championships). I’d say 45 is my goal this year, on a consistent basis, but I think I can do better than that.”
Johnson said Richardson’s dedication in the weight room has paid dividends. She said that when she arrived at MU, her best power clean was 120 (pounds). Now, it’s 170. She does 325 “with ease” in the squat, up from 280 “on a really good day,” a couple of year ago.
Richardson said she also is paying more attention to her health.
“Coach always says we need to be ‘light and fluffy,’ whatever that means,” Richardson said, smiling. “I felt like I needed to trim down. I was 156 when I came in (this past August) and by December I was down to 140. I feel better. I eat healthy, eat three times a day, which student-athletes don’t do a lot. I eat what I’m supposed to eat.
“I quit going out having a good time (with friends). I go out maybe once a month now. I eat out maybe once a month, do that to reward myself, you know?”
Richardson said a “typical” daily menu for her is a breakfast of turkey bacon, eggs, grits and orange juice, with salmon, broccoli, rice and sweet tea – “I can’t give that up, I love sweet tea,” she said. For dinner, the entrée is chicken, turkey or fish, the first two usually with pasta. “I love veggies,” she said.
Meanwhile, she has found success despite the Herd’s trying workout conditions indoors, on a rubber surface on an upper concourse of the Henderson Center. For the triple jump, there is no landing sand. High jump mats are used instead.
“It handcuffs a lot of what we can do, because of the concrete underneath,” said Johnson, who like everyone in the track and field program can’t wait until 2014-15 when the Herd’s new indoor facility is open. “She has to be careful. But Jasia knows what she is doing. I say one word and she makes the adjustment because she understands.”
Richardson said she uses Marshall’s lack of a track facility as a motivator, of sorts – putting her psychology major work into practice.
“I knew there was no track when I transferred,” Richardson said. “What it means is I think I have an advantage on other people. I have to work harder in different circumstances (than opponents). Make sure your technique is right.
“I actually like jumping into the high jump mats, because if you don’t get your knees, you aren’t going to land right. That helps when I’m landing on sand, because I’m used to keeping my knees up. The sand is low. You can’t go into those mats like you go into the sand.”
That’s what Johnson meant when he said Richardson has figured out her sport specialty. “She’s grown and matured,” the Herd jumping coach said. “I used to call her a baby, and now she’s a young woman.”
Richardson said she wants to “look into coaching” after graduation. She grasps that leaping into national consciousness took more than a hop, skip and a jump.
“I think one reason I’ve gotten better is I know what I do right, or what I do wrong, and I understand how to change it,” she said. “I think I can teach people that way.”