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Technique leads Mitchell High School to become one of two SD schools with three 6-foot high jumpers

Mitchell High School’s high jumpers quickly learned all of the steps leading up to the jump were equally important to the jump itself.

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Mitchell's Ryley Johansen competes in the high jump at the Howard Wood Dakota Relays on Friday, April 30 in Sioux Falls. (Nick Sabato / Republic)

Mitchell High School’s high jumpers quickly learned all of the steps leading up to the jump were equally important to the jump itself.

Early-season results did not match the athletic ability oozing from Ryley Johansen, Carter Moller and Lincoln Bates. But Kernel jump coach Deb Thill kept harking on technique, and as May hit, her words finally began to sink in.

All three jumpers hit personal-bests less than two weeks prior to the state meet. Now Mitchell joins Sioux Falls Roosevelt as the only schools in South Dakota with three high jumpers to clear 6 feet entering the Class AA state meet Friday in Sturgis.

“They want to be good and they know that high jump is a lot of technique,” Thill said. “They want to jump more than I let them because they want to do their best. Their improvement from where they started to where they are now is a testament to that. It just shows their work ethic and how they wanted to get better.”

Johansen is the eldest of the group, but with last season canceled due to COVID-19, he had one year of experience under his belt. The 6-foot-6 senior cleared 6 feet, 2 inches as a sophomore and qualified for the state meet, but Thill had to reteach some intricacies after the year layoff.

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Early in the season, Johansen jumped 6 feet at the Huron Invitational, but could not get back to the mark for the remainder of the month. He even had a set-back by jumping 5-8 in Pierre on April 23.

But by the Howard Wood Dakota Relays on April 30, Johansen started to find his form. He hit 6 feet at the meet and then jumped 6-1 in Yankton one week later. Finally, he cleared a personal-best 6 feet, 3 inches — the seventh-best jump in Class AA — at the Eastern South Dakota Conference meet on May 15.

Johansen’s goal is to finish in the top-five and now that goal is within reach. O’Gorman’s Joe Lynch has the top jump in Class AA at 6-7, but he is the only jumper to surpass 6-4 this season.

“I think to get top-five, all I need to get is 6-4,” Johansen said. “It’s just a little titch, we call it. … I just have to jump a little higher, hold that titch a little bit longer and do all the technique work we’ve worked on this whole season.”

Moller and Bates did not have the same foundation built on prior experience, so the bar was a bit lower early in the year. Moller, who is a junior, jumped 5-6 at the Corn Palace Relays on April 17, while Bates, a sophomore, hit 5-4.

Both saw some improvements in the following weeks and then their jumps skyrocketed. Heading into the Yankton First Dakota Relays on May 6, Moller had barely cleared 6 feet, even in practice. But he managed to jump 6-1 at the meet and then cleared 6-2 to win the Mark Wendelglass Relays on May 20 in Aberdeen.

“I was kind of in my head a lot when I jumped 5-6 my freshman year and I got out of it,” Moller said. “I just jumped. … My confidence is way up now. At the state meet, I’m going to try to hit 6-3 or 6-4.”

Bates, meanwhile, progressed to 5-9 at Yankton, but he bounded to 6 feet at the ESD meet 11 days later. The trio even ended the season by taking the top-three spots at the Wendelgass Relays.

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“I think it’s where I set my bar. I’m not really thinking about how I can jump,” Bates said. “It’s a lot of technique, figuring out my steps and where I need to be jumping. It’s keeping my steps consistent and making sure my foot is in the same spot every time.”

Johansen will move on to the Dakota Wesleyan University track team following the state meet, but Moller and Bates still have room for improvement in the future. They have so much potential that Scott Giblin’s school record of 6 feet, 6 1/2 inches may be in jeopardy by time they are done.

“Ryley’s got technique, but (Moller and Bates) can jump,” Thill said. “So when we keep working on technique as they get older, they’re going to keep jumping higher.”

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