Sophomore jumper Themba Ntini had to leap across continents to join the track and field team last spring.
Ntini, a native of Johannesburg, South Africa, said the opportunity to improve as an athlete was one of the reasons why he decided to make the trip to the United States.
“I knew there would be more opportunities here in terms of practicing, coaching and also facility-wise,” Ntini said. “I knew it was a step up from the South African system of track and field.”
The track and field team has received strong individual performances from several jumpers in recent weeks, including Ntini, who finished third in the long jump and 14th in the triple jump earlier this month at the Terrapin Invitational in College Park, Md. Ntini’s long jump peaked at a distance of 22 feet, 4.5 inches at that meet.
Along with Ntini, the men’s team received major contributions at the event from senior Steven Johnson in the long jump and freshman Joshua Louis in the high jump. On the women’s side, freshman Devon DuPont and sophomore Shavaun Christian both finished in the top 10 for the high jump earlier this month.
Ntini said he is feeling healthier after sustaining a toe injury last month just prior to the Atlantic Ten Conference Indoor Championship.
“I had some time to relax and recover from the injury. So that allowed my muscles and my body to fully recover,” Ntini said. “By the time the [Terrapin Invitational] came along, I was practically feeling 100 percent.”
Ntini credited the coaching staff for his progress. As a freshman, Ntini had to adjust to the team’s practice habits, since training was overlooked in his hometown, he said.
“South Africa – I have to admit – compared to [Temple] was really light,” he said. “There wasn’t much of an emphasis on form and technique.”
Coach Stefanie Scalessa said Ntini is “a quick learner,” a quality that helps make up for his inexperience in certain events.
Ntini said he sees himself as the successor to Johnson, who Ntini described as a mentor, and “someone I look up to.”
Johnson, who jumped a height of 21 feet, 11 inches to finish 16th at the Duke Invitational earlier this month, said “going down south, [where] the weather was hotter” helped improve his individual performances in the long jump.
The opportunity to get outdoors was crucial for the long jumpers, Scalessa said, since the long jumpers had not had a chance to go through full approaches during the indoor season when they practice in the Student Pavilion.
“The nice thing about starting the spring season is that we’re able to get out in the pit again,” Scalessa said. “Now, they have the opportunity to work on their speed, momentum and jumping.”
Johnson said the goal for the long jumpers in the upcoming weeks is to remain healthy.
Johnson sprained his lateral collateral ligament in the indoor season. Scalessa said Johnson started jumping again in practice last week for the first time since he sustained the injury.
“It’s good to see him explosive again, being able to jump off that leg without too much pain,” Scalessa said.
Johnson, who is also a sprinter, said he has grown accustomed to competing with the injury.
“It’s never going to be the same [again],” Johnson said of his LCL. “I just have to cope with it.”
Louis, a sprinter, hurdler and jumper, has cleared a height of 6 feet, 2 inches in the high jump twice this season.
Louis said he once cleared a height of 6 foot, 6 inches in the event when he was in high school. He added that he has not been overly satisfied with his performances thus far.
“I’m not too pleased with it, but then again I’m going steady in the direction that I want to get to,” Louis said.
“I definitely know that the best is yet to come,” he said.
Scalessa said she believes that the best is yet to come for her high jumpers on both the men and women’s teams.
Christian and DuPont both cleared heights of five feet to finish eighth and ninth, respectively, in the high jump at the Terrapin Invitational.
Scalessa said Christian is “one of the most dedicated athletes that I’ve worked with” and said DuPont is a “dynamo” and a potential heptathlete, since she competes in sprints and hurdles in addition to the long jump.
DuPont said she didn’t normally compete in the high jump during high school and she’s still learning the basics from Scalessa.
“Right now she’s really teaching me the proper technique and it’s helping me out,” DuPont said.
Scalessa said she is working on fine-tuning the approaches of DuPont, Christian and Louis. She is carefully teaching the jumpers new methods because she doesn’t want to intentionally disrupt their short-term progression.
“Sometimes when you start to work with somebody, they go backwards before they start to go forward,” Scalessa said, referring to the trend she is attempting to prevent.
Tyson McCloud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.