Carson healthy enough for record jump

MHS junior breaks school mark at state relays

By: Justin Feil
   Jenn Carson came into winter track hoping for a record-setting season, but the Montgomery High junior had bigger goals beyond that one.
   "My goal is to be healthy by the end of the spring track season," said Carson, who missed all but the end of last spring after suffering stress fractures in her feet during winter track. "I’m being really cautious with my workouts. I’m trying to read my body better."
   Health-wise, that’s gone well enough this winter. Performance-wise, her body has come up with better-than-expected numbers.
   At the Group II state relays on Sunday, Carson and Brittany Faleski combined to jump 9 feet, 6 inches to equal the school high-jump record and finish third overall. Carson jumped 5-feet-4 of that record to set a new MHS individual winter record. She also was part of the sixth-place 4×200 relay, with Kandi Givner, Casey Hartnett and Tara Gorka, which also set a school record of 1:53.46.
   "My definite goal was to break the indoor school record," Carson said of the high-jump mark. "I didn’t expect it to happen my second meet back."
   Not only was it just the second meet in which Carson could compete in the high jump, but it came after just three practices in the past month. The recent cold spell and precipitation have made the high jump area more suitable for ice skating, and working out hard inside isn’t much of an option for Carson.
   "When forced inside, Jenn has done a quarter or third of what we’ve done," said MHS head coach Mike Harnett. "Stress fractures and marble hallways aren’t a good combination."
   "With the weather it was tough to do anything," she added. "It’s hard to see progress like that. I’ve been lifting pretty regularly. It finally came together. And confidence is a big thing too."
   Carson has always shown the capability to be an outstanding high-jumper, and she came in as a very good sprinter as well. As a freshman, she jumped 5 feet in the outdoor season. Last year, she cleared 5 feet in the indoor season, got injured by season’s end and returned to jump 5 feet in the outdoor season.
   "I didn’t compete at all except for sectionals and Groups," said Carson, who also ran a leg of the 4×400 relay at the Penn Relays. But otherwise, she had six months off from running until this winter season. She’s also been a member of the 4×200 relay that has now broken its own record twice this season.
   "I was the weakest link," Carson laughed of Sunday’s meet. "But I’m not surprised we broke it. Everyone’s so great on it. It’s definitely a record we can break again."
   The 800 relay is trying to qualify for the Eastern Invitational that will be held in late February. If Carson continues her standout season, it could be a busy end to next month. She was the lone Group II jumper to clear 5-2 Sunday.
   "She cleared 5 feet then ran the 200 and came back and cleared 5-2," Harnett said. "What was interesting was she was only girl in. When I came over to tell her how they did, she had such surprise and joy on her face. She has a legit shot if she can duplicate that to be the (Group II) individual champion. We’ll have to dig out from under the snow and make some time for her to practice."
   Carson and the Cougars will be competing at the Lavino Relays at Lawrenceville on Sunday. MHS is coming off quite a day. Not only was Carson a part of three records, but the sprint medley relay of Laura Singley, Givner, Hartnett and Gorka set a record of 4:27.21 to finish fourth, with Gorka equaling the school 800-meter record of 2:26 on her split. Gorka, Melissa Martin, Singley and Nikki Sciotto also set a school record of 13:18 to finish fifth in the distance medley relay. On the boys’ side, Mike Durik, Scott Gameche, Mike Ryskin and Ryan Pottorf set a new 4×800 relay record of 8:58.
   "I was telling the girls, this was one of the best days in the history of the indoor program," Harnett said. "We had six records broken or tied. I thought they could score in five events and they did in four. They all ran season bests.
   "I was concerned. It had been a long time since that county meet, and especially with younger teams, if you go a long time and don’t see chance to see improvement, they’ll get a little frustrated and you could lose them. Or if they get sick, they might not get a chance to see a PR. But Steve (Barbieri, the MHS assistant) kept the sprinters focused and they had a great meet. You could see (at Tuesday’s practice) they were really pumped up about it."
   The record times have spurred the Cougars to think bigger. Carson isn’t so much thinking of 5-feet-4 yet, but it will be the target down the road.
   "The outdoor record is 5-2 and I’m happy that’s in reach," she said. "I wasn’t planning on altering my goals. I want to consistently be able to jump 5-2 first. But 5-4 could be a goal for outdoor.
   "I was pretty overwhelmed clearing 5-2," she added. "I never even practiced to clear 5-4 and you have to change some things to make it. It was weird to be the only one left. I’ve never been the last one left."
   Carson’s performance is a testament to her dedication even as she battles to come back from stress fractures. That dedication means finding low-stress, high-reward ways to build herself back up.
   "She’s been a leader with the girls as far as getting them in weight room and getting the work done," Harnett said. "She’s put in a lot of time and it shows. Jenn has been great. She’s been a good leader and the girls have a role model to follow."
   Carson’s work left her prepared for a new personal best in the high jump after little practice.
   "We had that long stretch with no meets after county relays," Harnett said. "We trained straight through. We had a little tri-meet at Peddie before states and she cleared 5 feet. But we were only able to get out two or three times. She’s done all plyometric stuff, a lot of weight room, a lot of explosive stuff that translates well. When I saw her go 5 feet, I thought she had enough (for 5-2)."
   Carson’s conditioning has paid off for her quickest in the high jump. Her running has taken longer to return.
   "It’s been hard leaving as one of the top sprinters and coming back not as strong as when I left," Carson said. "I’m trying to work hard and get back to where I was. I took off six months so it’ll take some time. Hopefully I’ll be back to where I was by the spring."
   Coming off a record-setting winter season, that goal bodes well for Jenn Carson and the Montgomery girls’ track team.