One of Texas Tech coach Wes Kittley’s keys to success over the years has been spotting raw talent and developing off-the-radar recruits — Gionna Jackson being one of the latest examples.
The Tech sophomore from Saginaw leads the Big 12 Conference and ranks top-20 in the NCAA in the women’s triple jump.
Not bad considering Jackson didn’t do the triple jump in high school, went to state only once and didn’t medal.
“It’s just been a blessing, because I did triple jump maybe once in high school,” Jackson said, “but it wasn’t really my event. Long jump was my event. So it’s been very humbling to have these coaches believe in me and come out here and jump 42 feet and almost beat the (school) record, which I plan to do at the Big 12s.”
Tech hosts the Big 12 outdoor championships Friday through Sunday at the Fuller Track Complex. Based on season results, Jackson will be the favorite when the women’s triple jump competition begins at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
Since early April, she’s broken the 41-foot mark three times in competition, including a personal record 42-51/2 two weeks ago at the Red Raider Open.
The current longest-standing record in Tech women’s outdoor track and field is Amanda Banks’ triple jump of 42-101/4 from 1989. Banks was a two-time Southwest Conference champion and the 1989 NCAA runner-up.
“That’s my goal,” Jackson said. “I feel like once I break the record, that’s all en route to becoming the Big 12 champion.”
Tech recruted Jackson as a long jumper-sprinter. In high school, she competed in the relays, the 100 meters and the long jump. Kittley said the idea of her doing the triple jump didn’t take shape until after she arrived at Tech.
“We saw her bounding one day,” Kittley said, “and realized it looks like she might be as good in the triple jump. I thought once I watched her bound that she’d be better in the triple jump than the long, and I’m not so sure that’s not what’s going to happen.”
The only time Jackson qualified for the UIL state meet in high school was three years ago, when she finished fourth in the Class 5A long jump competition. Her mark was 18-33/4.
“I’ve been seeing her mature as an athlete, as a person, but also really thrive on listening and learning from her coaches,” Kittley said.
The 41- and 42-foot jumps Jackson has put together the last few weeks are PRs by a wide margin compared to her bests last year.
At the 2013 Big 12 indoor meet, she finished seventh at 38-11. Her 2013 season best outdoor was 38-11/2.
At this year’s Big 12 indoor, she was fourth with an indoor career best 40-4.
Jackson had Kittley and assistant coach James Thomas telling her she was capable of big things. Everything clicked this outdoor season.
“It’s a mindset and having coach Thomas and coach Kittley tell me I need to take it to another level,” Jackson said. “Once I did that, I had to get the mindset of, ‘This is what I want to do’ and slow down my phases and understand the technique. That’s what’s allowed me to jump 42.”
Follow Don on Twitter
BIG 12 OUTDOOR
TRACK AND FIELD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Friday through Sunday
at Fuller Track Complex
11 a.m.: decathlon 100 meters. 11:45 a.m.: decathlon long jump. 12:45 p.m.: decathlon shot put. 2 p.m.: decathlon high jump. 3:45 p.m.: decathlon 400 meters.
1:30 p.m.: Hammer throw. 6:30 p.m.: Javelin throw.
9 p.m.: 10,000 meters.
11:30 a.m.: Heptathlon 100-meter hurdles. 12:15 p.m.: Heptathlon high jump. 2:15 p.m.: Heptathlon shot put. 3:30 p.m.: Heptathlon 200 meters.
11 a.m.: Hammer throw. 4 p.m.: Javelin throw.
8:15 p.m.: 10,000 meters.
10 a.m.: Decathlon 100 hurdles. 11 a.m.: Decathlon discus. 12:30 p.m.: Decathlon pole vault. 3 p.m.: Decathlon javelin. 4:30 p.m.: Decathlon 1,500 meters.
6 p.m.: Long jump. 7 p.m.: Shot put.
6 p.m. to 9:25 p.m.: Preliminaries.
11 a.m.: Heptathlon long jump. 12:15 p.m.: Heptathlon javelin. 1:30 p.m.: Heptathlon 800 meters.
3 p.m.: Long jump. 4 p.m.: Shot put. 5 p.m.: Pole vault.
6 p.m. to 9:25 p.m.: Preliminaries.
2 p.m.: Discus. 5 p.m.: Pole vault. 6:30 p.m.: Triple jump. 6:30 p.m.: High jump.
5 p.m.: Special Olympics 100 meters. 5:40 p.m.: 400-meter relay. 6:05 p.m.: 3,000-meter steeplechase. 6:30 p.m.: 1,500 meters. 6:55 p.m.: 110-meter hurdles. 7:15 p.m.: 400 meters. 7:35 p.m.: 100 meters. 7:55 p.m.: 800 meters. 8:15 p.m.: 400-meter hurdles. 8:35 p.m.: 200 meters. 9:05 p.m.: 5,000 meters. 9:25 p.m.: 1,600-meter relay.
11 a.m.: Discus. 3:30 p.m.: High jump. 3:30 p.m.: Triple jump.
5 p.m.: Special Olympics 100 meters. 5:30 p.m.: 400-meter relay. 5:50 p.m.: 3,000-meter steeplechase. 6:20 p.m.: 1,500 meters. 6:45 p.m.: 100-meter hurdles. 7:05 p.m.: 400 meters. 7:25 p.m.: 100 meters. 7:45 p.m.: 800 meters. 8:05 p.m.: 400-meter hurdles. 8:25 p.m.: 200 meters. 8:40 p.m.: 5,000 meters. 9:25 p.m.: 1,600-meter relay.