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Benefield: High jumper elevating his performance at SRJC

Waisea Jikoiono doesn't look the part.

“He's built like a football player,” Santa Rosa Junior College track and field coach David Wellman said.

Jikoiono's teammates call him “Big Guy.”

“Skinny and tall, that's the typical jumper look,” said Jikoiono, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 190 pounds. “I'm a little bit more bulky. I'm a little shorter. It's how us are islanders are built, short and stocky.”

Short, stocky, muscular, football build - whatever it is, Jikoiono has a gift for making that body soar.

The SRJC freshman out of Montgomery High has already hit the qualifying mark for the state meet in the high jump and at this early point in the season holds the top mark in California at 6 feet, 7.5 inches. His personal best coming into the season had been 6 feet, 5 inches.

“To jump so much higher than his PR is pretty great for this point in the season,” Wellman said.

And guesses are that he's only going to go higher. At the Jack Albiani Invitational at Modesto Junior College on Friday, Jikoiono hopes to qualify for the Stanford Invitational March 29-30.

“I have never seen anyone so aware of how to contort his body to get over the bar,” Wellman said.

Montgomery grad and Santa Rosa Junior College freshman Waisea Jikoiono has already hit the state qualifying mark in high jump and has his eyes set on even higher heights this season.

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It might be in his genes - his mom, Tara, was a top-ranked high jumper as a high schooler in Fiji. Despite that, Jikoiono didn't give the event a try until he was a freshman in high school in Fiji.

“I was a little late to it. A lot of my competitors had been doing it for a while,” he said.

But it was love at first leap.

“It was the one thing I was actually OK at,” he said. “I tried playing rugby, I tried sprinting, I tried basketball.”

Nothing stuck. Until the high jump.

“It was so much fun for me that I like putting in work for it,” he said. “Ever since I started, I feel like I have been very committed to high jump. At my old school, I asked my track and field coach put the high jump bar and mat in the gym and every lunch I'd just be in there jumping.”

When he moved to California and enrolled at Montgomery in his sophomore year, he again focused on his jumps. As a senior, Jikoiono posted the top jump in the Redwood Empire, just besting teammate (and now fellow Bear Cub) Jacob Williams with a leap of 6 feet, 5 inches.

But that one-two punch of Jikoiono and Williams has helped Jikoiono hone his game, he said.

“We are really close at practice. Ever since Montgomery we have always been like the dynamic duo,” he said. “We have always pushed each other ever since junior year. We are best friends and rivals at the same time.

“I found that it helped me a lot,” he said of Williams' steady competition.

But at the same time, high jumping can be somewhat solitary, he said.

“High jumping is a sport where you are sort of playing against yourself,” he said. “I try to jump my own jump and not worry about anyone else.

“I'm still pretty competitive, I still want to win, I still want a medal, but in high jump, it's just you against the bar,” he said. “It's you against yourself.”

Wellman said Jikoiono's great strides this early in his freshman campaign can probably be traced back to his fall workout program.

“We basically train all of our jumpers as sprinters in the fall,” Wellman said.

Running mechanics, sprint mechanics, weights and plyometrics - the already muscled-up Jikoiono was put through the paces.

“I think the endurance part was new to him, but he never complained about it, never asked, ‘Why are we doing this?' He embraced it pretty well,” Wellman said. “He was one of those who never complained about anything.”

Maybe because Jikoiono could feel his body becoming stronger.

“I could feel a lot of power that I didn't feel in high school,” he said. “I think what really helped a lot was the weight training. We would learn how to properly squat, learn how to properly clean, learn how to properly dead lift.”

What role did SRJC high jumper Waisea Jikoiono play in a high school theater production? The answer to this pressing question and more in this edition of Speed Round Q&A.

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And all that added strength has given him lift he's never had before.

“His knee drive is the strongest out of anyone I have ever seen. He gets up and times it just right,” Wellman said.

All of the intricate movements a body has to go through to bend itself over a bar that is higher than a jumper's standing height can be hard to break down and difficult to teach, Wellman said.

“It's an innate thing,” he said of Jikoiono's bar awareness. “It's pretty amazing how he can wrap his body around the bar.”

And like Ginger Rogers dancing backwards, high jumpers don't see the bar after liftoff - it's behind them.

“You envision where the bar is and as you take off, you are jumping blindly,” Jikoiono said. “You have to sort of imagine that it's passing under your body and you have to get each part of your body above the bar at the right moment.”

And when that happens and you have leaped higher than you ever have before?

“Being able to land on the mat and look up and see it's a height you have never done before and a height you have been trying to get?” he said. “I don't know how to explain it. It's amazing. It's crazy.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

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