She was confident she could win it, but when it was clinched, she wasn’t ready for it.
“When they told me, I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s crazy!,’” South Carolina high jumper Jeannelle Scheper said. “I think I’m still a little bit in shock.”
Scheper, two-time silver medalist in the NCAA indoor high jump, won her long-awaited gold this past Saturday. One of the most decorated athletes in Gamecock track and field history, Scheper went into the final pairing with Kansas State’s Kimberly Williamson, who she had known from previous meets.
“I didn’t want to seem too confident, but I knew that I had what it took to win,” Scheper said. “After the first two attempts, I thought, ‘Yeah, I think I have this.’”
Williams and Scheper each cleared 6-feet, 2-inches and moved on to 6-3. Each fouled on their first two attempts, but when Williamson missed her third and final attempt, Scheper knew she won – although it took a moment to sink in what she had won.
The trophy, a miniature of the NCAA’s usual national championship plaques, was finally hers. After a journey that took her from her native Saint Lucia as a 16-year-old high-school graduate to a new country, new school and new style of competition, and then coming oh-so-close to winning it two other times, Scheper had her title.
“It took some time for me to get where I am mentally,” she said. “I think the coaching staff knew I was ready physically. This year I had a renewed confidence.”
Scheper is the first USC jumper to win a national title and took home the program’s first individual championship since 2010. It’s been even longer for a women’s gold medal – Scheper broke a drought that started when Natasha Hastings won in 2007.
She’s the 21st woman to win an individual title at USC, has already graduated at age 20 and is preparing for a double-life moving forward – earning her master’s in economics from the Darla Moore School of Business and continuing to compete in the high jump. Already qualified for the 2016 Olympics, Scheper will represent Saint Lucia in the upcoming Pan American Games and the world championships.
Now it’s about taking her talents to the next level and competing for another gold medal – one that’s the biggest individual achievement an athlete could earn.
“Going from the collegiate to the professional arena, there’s a lot that’s going to have to be stepped up,” Scheper said. “This is no longer for points, it’s a lifestyle. I’m going to be competing against grown women now. They do this for a living.”
Assistant coach Deletha Quarles remembered the gangly 16-year-old when she first reported. The talent was there, but it had to be harnessed and coached.
World-class weight-training facilities and nutrition regimens were installed and Quarles broke down Scheper’s approach. She held her to five steps before a jump, figuring if she could clear a decent height without much of a running start, think of what she could do later on.
“We didn’t know she was going to be as great as she is,” Quarles said. “We had to back off a few times with growing pains. We knew she was good but we couldn’t skip grades of getting there.”
Quarles will continue to coach Scheper, although the two will be on different teams this summer. Quarles is head coach of Team USA for the worlds and won’t be able to be with Scheper on the sideline, but she will be able to coach her at the Olympics.
The gold and personal records are still out there. Scheper didn’t make any bold declarations for 2016, but with her trophy in front of her, she said she was looking forward to more accolades.
“I’m planning on having some good success there.”
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