South Carolina track star Jeannelle Scheper never knew what she was getting into as a teenager.
Her school in Gros-Islet, Saint Lucia, was conducting Sports Day – the equivalent to Field Day activities in the United States – when she was selected by a team captain to participate in the high jump. She was picked because she was tall for her age.
What Scheper didn’t know was a coach was watching, and her performance in a make-shift event would shape her future.
The Gamecocks standout is considered one of the best high jumpers in the world with a top jump of 6-feet, 5-inches. She hopes to bring home a gold medal in the NCAA Outdoor Championships, held in Eugene, Ore., by the end of the week.
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After winning silver twice in previous NCAA championships - the 2013 and 2014 Indoors - this is her final opportunity to win gold. Everyone around her believes it’s her time.
“I feel like the past four years have been building up to my experience over the past few months,” Scheper said last week. “I’ve been working really hard with coach (Delethea Quarles) toward this. She’s felt I could accomplish this from the start. I guess it’s time I start believing it. It’s an awesome feeling to set a goal and achieve it and then set more goals and keep pushing toward it.”
Scheper recently was named the Southeast Region Field Athlete of the Year by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) after an undefeated season.
She won all six meets this year with no mark lower than 6-1 ¼. She earned USTFCCCA National Field Athlete of the Week once and was a three-time SEC Field Athlete of the Week winner. She captured her first career SEC Outdoor title.
Her 6-5 mark is the best in the U.S. this year but was recently broken in an international meet.
That makes her one of the favorites in the NCAAs this week. She feels her biggest obstacle is more mental than physical.
“It’s definitely a mental thing at this point,” Scheper said. “I’ve been training hard enough and my body knows how to do it. Now, it’s ‘Can my body be focused enough to do it in the competition.’ The high jump is very mental because you’re competing sometimes two or three hours and you have to stay focused and keep your mind in the game.”
On top of being a top-notch performer, Scheper was named the SEC Female Scholar Athlete of the Year. She graduated in May with a double major in mathematics and economics and has plans to enroll in the Master’s Program for Economics at South Carolina.
She has been on the President’s, Dean’s or Athletic Director’s Honor Roll every semester. Last spring, she earned the South Carolina President’s Award.
“There are a lot of 4.0 (GPA) out there, so it meant a lot to me that they think I’m special enough to achieve this title combining my academics and athletics,” Scheper said. “It feels good to be recognized for your achievements.”
She hopes one day to return to her home country of Saint Lucia in the Caribbean and provide assistance in some form.
“I hope by furthering my education it can have some sort of impact with the government or directly with sports back in Saint Lucia,” she said. “Really, I just want to try to do anything to uplift my country. My beginnings are there, so I want to go back and help.”
After competing in the NCAA Championship, her focus will turn toward the World Championship in August in Beijing. She will represent Saint Lucia there and already has qualified for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
The All-American has flourished in her time at South Carolina and hopes to finish it with a first in the NCAAs.
“I’ve been truly blessed,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade these last four or five years for anything. I just hope to be able finish strong and bring back a gold medal to Columbia.”
JEANNELLE SCHEPER BIO
Hometown: Gros-Islet, Saint Lucia
Claim to fame: National leader in the high jump, with a top mark of six feet, five inches
▪ Southeast Field Athlete of the Year by U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association
▪ SEC's female Scholar-Athlete of the Year, with a double major in mathematics and economics
What: NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships
When: Wednesday through Saturday
Where: Oregon’s Hayward Field (Eugene, Ore.)
TV: Wednesday, 7 p.m. (ESPNU); Thursday, 7 p.m. (ESPNU) and 8:30 p.m. (ESPN); Friday, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN); Saturday, 5 p.m. (ESPN2)