Arizona track and field Greg Hansen: Barrett has a higher calling

Despite NCAA mark, win streak, she's ready to jump to new heights
2013-05-15T00:00:00Z 2013-05-15T00:12:02Z Arizona track and field Greg Hansen: Barrett has a higher callingGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 15, 2013 12:00 am  • 

These are the three most unassailable records in UA women's sports history:

Jennie Finch won 60 consecutive softball games, Lorena Ochoa won seven golf tournaments in succession and Amy Skieresz won 18 consecutive distance races.

Now it's a foursome.

Brigetta Barrett has won 24 consecutive college high jumping competitions, including two NCAA indoor and two NCAA outdoor titles, and last week broke the college record by clearing 6 feet 6 1/4 inches.

Barrett was so dominant in last week's Pac-12 championships that she won the title by seven inches. Ridiculous.

And here comes the surprise punch of the season: "Brigetta's really had a bad year," says UA jumps coach Sheldon Blockburger. "We haven't been happy with it at all."

Not happy? Barrett's last loss in college competition was April 2, 2011.

But since winning the silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics at 6-8, Barrett has been pulled, tugged and stretched in every conceivable direction.

"Everybody wants a piece of her time," says Blockburger. "She makes speaking engagements for schools and at hospitals. She works an internship at a TV station. She volunteers for charities. She graduated with something like a 3.8 GPA. She basically gets four hours of sleep a night. The distractions never seem to end."

Distracted? Barrett will next compete May 25 at the NCAA Regionals in Austin, Texas. The following morning, at 6, she will fly to New York City to compete in the Adidas Grand Prix. Then she'll prepare for the NCAA finals June 4-5 in Eugene, Ore.

Blockburger says his first- semester practice time with Barrett, the school's homecoming queen, was limited to five sessions and produced "a comedy of errors" during follow-up competitions. And yet Barrett still has been good enough to set the NCAA record and overwhelm her opponents by silly, almost embarrassing margins.

"I feel like I'm in an amazing place," she told reporters after breaking the NCAA record last week in Los Angeles, adding that "it's time to pass the torch."

Barrett is now the torchbearer. The very busy torchbearer.

She sang the national anthem at the Fiesta Bowl. She flew to Atlanta to be with Jack Nicklaus at the Wooden Citizenship Cup banquet. She gave a keynote speech at the UA's annual CATS banquet. She was the marquee name at Tucson's "Race for the Cure" event. And she flew to New York City to sing "America the Beautiful" at the Millrose Games.

In the middle of all that, Barrett established the then-top jump in the world for 2013 on March 29 in the Stanford Invitational.

There is a precedent for what Brigetta Barrett is doing: It's called NCAA Woman of the Year, which has been won by 1990s Arizona high jumper Tanya Hughes and by recent UA swimmers Lacey Nymeyer, Justine Schluntz and Whitney Myers.

Barrett is the UA's nominee for that award, which will be decided in October.

Now, for the first time since August, her calendar is not so complicated.

She will train for the NCAA Championships, the USA Championships and for August's World Championships in Moscow. Her goal is to break the American record, 6-8 3/4. The target date is early next month in Eugene.

Blockburger believes she can clear 6-9 - she jumped 6-8 at the London Games - if it's not raining. The world mark is 6-10 1/4.

Immediately after the NCAA finals, Barrett will get her first payday: Several shoe companies are jockeying to sign her. It's conceivable she can earn as much as $250,000 a year once she hits the Grand Prix circuit and her engaging personality goes global.

Blockburger, who is something of a coaching perfectionist, insists that Barrett hasn't yet tapped into her full potential, which seems odd for someone on a 24-meet winning streak.

"She does things on the track that are unmatched in college athletics," he says. "But now she's going to get more rest and be able to focus more on jumping. Her training will improve. She should jump very high here shortly."

What'll it take to beat Barrett in her final college days and snap the streak?

Her last loss came in the Jim Click Shootout in April 2011. That day, she cleared a mere 6-0 3/4, tied by Washington State's Holly Parent. Because Parent had one fewer miss, Barrett was pushed to second place.

"Brigetta had been in the hospital the night before the meet, dehydrated, with an IV," Blockburger remembers. "She walked out of the hospital and went to the meet without a good night's sleep or having eaten for a day."

Last week at the Pac-12 finals, Barrett and Parent met again. This time, rested and having eaten properly, Barrett beat the runner-up Parent by seven inches.

The torch has been passed.

Elite company

With another dominant high jump win, Brigetta Barrett continues to grow her legacy as a Wildcat:

24

Consecutive high jump wins at collegiate events by Barrett

60

Consecutive college games won by former UA softball pitcher Jennie Finch

18

Consecutive distance event wins by former UA track star Amy Skieresz

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com. On Twitter @ghansen711

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