If Iesha Hamm needed a boost of confidence this season as a sophomore high jumper for Cal State Fullerton, the Stockdale graduate got it from a situation she never wants to partake in ever again.
It was April 13 and Hamm was in a jump-off with Fresno State senior Varvana Klyuchnikova for the female high jump title at the Rafer Johnson/Jackie Joyner-Kersee Invitational at UCLA.
The two spent what Titans’ jumps coach Cortney Stafford said “was about an extra 40 minutes” trying to out-do the other despite setbacks for both.
If it was Hamm clearing a mark, then Klyuchnikova cleared. If Klyuchnikova didn’t clear a mark, Hamm didn’t either.
Until Hamm finally did, winning the event and setting herself on a trajectory that has her as the lone former Kern County prep standout at the NCAA Track and Field Championships beginning Wednesday in Austin, Texas.
“I wanted to win. When she cleared the bar, I was ready to clear the bar,” Hamm said. “I just needed to stay focused. Even when fatigued started in, I just wanted to win.”
Added Stafford: “It was ridiculous. She must have taken 21 jumps that day. I told her, ‘Iesha. A high jumper usually takes 6-8 jump. Why?’ This is not regionals.”
Stafford knew once Hamm went through a competition like that, a situation where she was unable to clear a mark that she previously had in other competitions, she knew it was a turning point for the better.
“Since then, she said she is not doing this again. That was a game-changer for her,” Stafford said. “It started this trajectory for her. It was one of those things to remind her how quickly she can lose focus. When you do, you make mistakes. There was likely a point where she didn’t clear the bar at a height that she should have. I was really proud of her making the change and become really focused and have the hunger to start and finish each jump now. It’s been nice to see her growth.”
Hamm qualified for nationals as one of nine to clear 1.80 meters (5-10 3/4) in Sacramento at the NCAA West Regionals on May 23. Nine days before, Hamm set a personal-best mark and a Fullerton school record in the Big West Championships at 1.81 meters (5-11 1/4).
Hamm becomes the first in CSUF history to advance to nationals in the high jump and the first for the program in any event since 2011, according to the school’s athletic website.
The women’s high jump finals is June 8 beginning at 2 p.m. locally.
“She’s starting to actually believe that she can do this,” Stafford said. “Before, she knew she liked it. Now she actually believes that she deserves to be at these meets.”
And that matters to Hamm, who said she has battled with inconsistency and mental lapses in the first few months of the season while also dealing with a nagging toe injury that will require surgery once the season is completed next week.
“I would check out. But it’s gotten a lot better at the end of the season,” Hamm said. “No matter the distractions, I try harder to stay in the zone.”
Hamm, who finished seventh in the CIF State Championships in the girls high jump at Stockdale in 2017, needed that focus at regionals when she cleared 1.70 on her first attempt. But then she needed her third and final attempt at 1.75 to continue in the competition. That still didn’t get her into the top-12 with an automatic slot to nationals, so Hamm still had to dig deep and continue, but this time, instead of letting anything distract her, Hamm cleared 1.80 on her third and final jump to advance.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Hamm said. “I looked at (Stafford) not knowing what was going on. But she just told me to calm down. I was so nervous. But I just tried to remember what she taught me in practice. I am a fighter and I knew I needed to get it done.
“This is pretty cool. It’s very surreal. It doesn’t seem like I am going. But I am sure when I get to Texas on Tuesday, I am sure I will have more feelings. I just don’t know what to think right now.”