RollTide.com contributor Pete LaFleur is profiling four of Alabama's qualifiers in the 2013 NCAA Outdoor Track Championships - Diondre Batson, Elias Hakansson, Alexis Paine and Krystle Schade - over the course of the national championships.
June 9, 2013
EUGENE, Ore. - Krystle Schade has been running and leaping on a highly competitive level for as long as she can remember. The Alabama senior high jumper - who already is a four-time NCAA Indoor participant and now will be making her fourth appearance at the NCAA Outdoor Championship, on Saturday in Eugene, Ore. (12:45 p.m. PT; 2:45 p.m. in Tuscaloosa) - has been driven to be the best from a very young age.
Schade will be looking to close her career with a sixth All-America performance, after placing eighth, seventh and runner-up at the NCAA Indoor from 2010-12 to go along with an 11th-place NCAA Outdoor showing in 2009, followed by seventh in 2010. The fifth-year senior did not compete during the 2011 outdoor season, leaving her one final go-round with the Tide this spring (her indoor eligibility expired in 2012).
With her college career stretching back to the 2009 season, Schade is one of the Tide veterans with the most perspective on the changes within Alabama track and field during the past few years. Current head coach Dan Waters and his highly-regarded staff came aboard in the summer of 2011 looking to transform the Tide into a program that excelled throughout all events. That new look included the addition of 40-year veteran assistant Dick Booth, a coaching specialist in the jumping events for numerous NCAA title teams during previous tenures at perennial power Arkansas and Florida.
Shortly after Waters was hired to direct the Alabama program, he still was completing his assistant coaching duties at Texas A&M. While at an NCAA Regional competition in, of all places, Eugene, he received an inquisitive call from Krystle's father, Palmer Schade, who was checking in from the family's home in Sunrise Fla.
"Krystle's dad wanted to know who was on the new coaching staff, in particular he, of course, was hoping that we were hiring a good jumps coach and would be building the program in the right way," recalls Waters. "I also had a similar conversation shortly thereafter with Krystle, and I assured both her and her father that we were hiring a tremendous jumps coach in Dick Booth, a proven winner who had worked with numerous NCAA champions, Olympians and the like.
"The key factor at that time was developing trust with Krystle and the program's other veteran leaders. We wanted her to see that she would be able to excel further in the program and beyond with her own Olympic dreams. The things we say and do as coaches need to be rock solid. She needed a coach like Dick Boothto motivate her and provide stability. It's made a big impact in putting her on the right path to greatness."
The 5-foot-10 Schade - who did not have the benefit of a jumps specialist coach prior to Booth's arrival - possesses the talent and experience needed to contend for the NCAA title this week in Eugene. Her school-record jump of 6-2 won the 2012 SEC Outdoor title, while her recent results have included placing third at the 2013 SEC Outdoor (6-0 3/4) before tying for first at the NCAA East Regional qualifying (5-11 1/4).
The key factor for Schade that literally may "push her over the top" is a mental component associated with a physical action, coming at the end of her highest jump attempts. It's an adjustment that Booth predicts likely could win Schade the NCAA title.
"Krystle could jump consistently over six feet, clearing 6-2, but she needs to arch her back a little longer on the top of those final jumps and lift her hips over the bar," explains the veteran coach Booth. "If she can do that arching on a regular basis, her jumps will become truly great. She already has the other components in place, with an aggressive approach and a good technique attacking the plant."
For Schade, this issue comes down to mind over matter. She and the other high jumpers even conduct a specific practice drill, standing flat on the ground before jumping backwards.
"Arching my back really is a mental thing and those practice drills can help, reinforcing the action of throwing your head back as hard as you can and as far as you can," she says. "When you do that, your back with automatically arch.
"But to be able to think about that when you are six feet in the air, to throw your head back and hold it while your body is completely arched, it takes a great deal of concentration. At the lower heights, I don't necessarily have to do that to clear the bar because I can jump high enough. But when it gets to the 6-2 range or higher, I really have to use that arching technique and need to focus on that before I take my approach."
Prior to this spring, Schade's career had been noted for a string of inconsistent results, due in some part to a string of injuries (plantar fasciitis, an Achilles issue, and shin splints) that all make "jumping less fun," as aptly summarized by Booth.
"Krystle has become more consistent at a higher level and some of that is because she has been able to overcame and manage her physical ailments," says Booth. "We've learned to adjust her practice schedule so that she gets enough training but does not get beat up in the process."
Schade credits her consistency and improved focus with a boost in confidence, spurred on by her battle-tested coach.
"Coach Booth has told me that I can have confidence in myself and know that I can win the biggest events, that I'm not just that I'm another jumper out there," she says. "I'm capable of taking the title from someone and for me to believe I can do it lets me know that I can win the big competitions.
"I trusted coach Booth and I stuck with Alabama, and it's helped me make it the NCAAs for the eighth time, so I'm obviously glad how it all has worked out."
As she has watched the field of opponents become more talented over the past few years, Schade nonetheless is considered among the top contenders to bring home the 2013 NCAA Outdoor high jump title. She arrived in the familiar confines of Oregon's Hayward Field with a sense of calm and preparedness.
"This is my eighth time going to the NCAA and actually my fifth time jumping at this track in Oregon, so I feel pretty confident and actually am less nervous than earlier in the season when you're trying to qualify," says Schade.
"I'm actually pretty close to a lot of my competitors; most of them are seniors so we have really grown fond of each other over the years. We all root for each other, so it's a really comfortable feeling because they are like my teammates."
Two of those "friendly foes" include Georgia's Saniel Atkinson and South Carolina's Jeannelle Scheper, two SEC rivals who have become close friends of Schade's over the past few years. With a biology degree already on her wall and a master's degree in education in the works (expected graduation date of December 2013), Schade has her life mapped out beyond her hopes of running in Rio at the 2016 Olympic Games. She plans to teach high school science and track and field, after hanging up her own jumping shoes.
"Being a student-athlete at Alabama has provided me so many opportunities from a competitive standpoint and in terms of getting to meet so many great people," she says. "But this experience also has helped me to grow as a person and to understand the importance of representing a tremendous university.
"It is a great thing to see the track and field program getting to the point of brining more qualifiers to the NCAAs and I'm excited to where the coaches will take the program for the following years. I'm happy to be able to say I've helped build what they will have in the future."
By Pete LaFleur for RollTide.com