Withrow gets a jump on track

Muleshoe High School junior Jessica Withrow, seen here hurdling over Lady Mules coach Benji Jay, finished second in the 300 meter hurdles at state in 2003. Photo by Eric Kluth

By Rick White

MULESHOE — Jessica Withrow decided to get a jump on the track season by giving up basketball.

The move appears to be paying off as the Muleshoe junior set two meet records earlier this month at the prestigious West Texas Relays in Odessa, Texas, including 5-foot-8 in the high jump. She also set a new standard in the 300-meter hurdles.

Breaking barriers is nothing new for Withrow, who as a sophomore was instrumental in Muleshoe winning the school’s first regional track title while qualifying for the state track meet in four events. She won the high jump at state and finished second in the 300 hurdles.

What makes her record jump of 5-8 even more impressive is that Withrow stands just 5-foot-4.

Second-year Muleshoe track coach Benji Jay said what Withrow lacks in vertical stature, she makes up for in technique and jumping ability.

“She’s worked extremely hard to get where she’s at,” he said. “She works really hard to get that extra inch in the high jump or that extra tenth of a second in the hurdles.”

Watching a much smaller teammate easily clear a bar that is 2 to 4 inches above her head leaves 6-foot Muleshoe senior Sara Benham in awe.

“She’s amazing,” said Benham, whose best in the high jump is 5-6. “She’s so much smaller and doesn’t have my vertical leap, but she’s just perfected her technique.

“She’s got it down.”

Withrow said the decision to spend the winter training for track was hard.

“Basketball wasn’t really my favorite sport,” she said. “But I hated giving up on the team.”

A winter of lifting weights and jumping exercises has Withrow already approaching some of the late-season marks she set last year.

“It helped a lot,” she said. “I think I’m in a lot better shape for track now.”

Jay said with a little tweaking of her technique Withrow can also become a force in the long jump — her best is 17-9.

Withrow’s biggest obstacle may be finding the energy to run and jump in five events — she also competes in the 100 hurdles and 1,600-meter relay.

“Sometimes it’s hard,” Withrow said. “At Odessa, I took one (high) jump and then had to go off and do the 300 hurdles. And at most track meets there’s only about 10 or 15 minutes between the 300 hurdles and the relay.”

Withrow understands the biggest hurdle she faces this season might be living up to expectations.

“I would really like to make it back to state,” Withrow said. “But I’m trying not to think about it until it comes.”

In the meantime, she’ll concentrate on clearing hurdles in front of her on the track.