May 09, 2017 02:38 PM
They call themselves the Boom Squad.
It's a nickname senior Michael Witschen and his fellow long jumpers at St. Thomas came up with early on this season, and it's taken on a life of its own.
"When you hit a big jump, it's like a bomb going off," Witschen said. "So we all try to go out and boom every meet. That's how it came about.
"All of a sudden, it took off. The Spotify playlists started being made," Witschen added. "T-shirts started getting printed up. Everybody sort of adopted it."
It helps that things have been ... well, booming.
Tommies long jumpers currently occupy the top four spots in the MIAC outdoor rankings this season, and seven of the top nine.
That kind of success can make the finals in the event at any given meet feel a little like an intrasquad scrimmage.
"It's a fun dynamic," said fellow senior jumper Evan Cross. "We compete with each other and push each other really hard. In the end, though, it doesn't really matter who ends up first as long as one of us is up there."
The Boom Squad is hoping their success continues resonating straight through the NCAA Division III outdoor national meet May 25 - 27 in Geneva, Ohio.
It's believed St. Thomas has never had more than two athletes qualify for nationals in a given event, but at least four of the Tommies long jumpers have a realistic shot at qualifying this year.
The top 20 jumps make the field. As of Friday, Witschen was ranked fifth in Division III with a leap of 7.45 meters (24-feet-5 1/2) and sophomore Conor White was ranked 18th (7.23 meters, 23-8 3/4). Cross was ranked 26th, (7.09 meters, 23-3 1/4) and sophomore Nick Spann is sitting just outside the top 50 (7.0 meters, 22-11.75).
"It's just worked out that we have a lot of depth in that event," added St. Thomas assistant coach Jay Hatleli, who works with the team's long jumpers. "And they all push each other. If one guy isn't feeling good, or just wants to take the day off, he looks out and sees three or four other jumpers all getting better; and it inspires him too.
"It's a very talented group. Some of they were very talented from the beginning," Hatlei said. "Others have worked their way into it."
One of those in the latter group is Witschen, a Monticello graduate who originally came to St. Thomas as a middle linebacker planning on playing football and competing in track.
He gave up football after his freshman year to focus on the long jump, an event in which he was - by his own admission - just an average performer in high school.
"My best high school jump was 20-feet-2, which isn't all that great," he said. "But when I got here my freshman year, I took one jump; and the coach at the time, Erik Diley (now at Carleton), asked me why I was jumping like I was trying to tackle somebody. My form was definitely not where it should have been."
Hatlei added, "But we made a few changes and things really started improving."
Cross was the lone St. Thomas long jumper to make outdoor nationals last season, fouling out on all three tries in prelims and failing to advance.
The Hill-Murray graduate got a late start on this season because he was studying in Botswana, observing how conditions like the HIV epidemic have impacted life there.
"That was eye-opening," Cross said. "You'd walk down the street there and strangers would come up to you and just ask how your day was going. They genuinely cared about how things were with you, no matter what their own conditions were. It really made you appreciate how much we have here."
But Cross is back now, and he and the rest of the Boom Squad are focused on having as many members as possible on hand at nationals later this month.
"Our goal is to get all four of us there," Witschen said. "That's what we're all shooting for. It would just be an incredible experience to make that happen."
Updated: May 09, 2017 02:38 PM
Created: May 05, 2017 12:17 PM
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