Banks rising senior Amy Hilger shines on a national stage

Whenever traveling across the country for an athletic competition, it’s always nice to make it count.

That is exactly what Amy Hilger did at the end of July, when she flew to North Carolina to compete in the USATF National Junior Olympic Outdoor Track & Field Championships, staged at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro.

A rising senior at Banks, Hilger matched her personal best of 5 feet, 5 inches in the high jump on July 27 to finish sixth in the young women’s division (birth years 1995 and 1996, ages 17-18) and land a spot on the awards podium. The performance capped a superlative spring and summer for the Lady Braves’ standout.

“It was cool. Throughout my last track season, that’s probably the best I’ve jumped all year,” Hilger said about her performance back east.

Hilger noted that “competition’s crazy at nationals,” but she was right in the thick of it in Greensboro. In fact, she jumped so well that she was not far from leaving North Carolina as national champion.

The top nine finishers in her event all cleared 5-5. Tiebreak procedures based on misses — first on misses at the highest height jumpers cleared, and then on overall misses — were used, Hilger said, to determine final placements. Hilger said she cleared 5-5 on her second attempt and also took attempts at 5-7 for the first time in competition.

“Going into it, I just wanted to do better than last year, but I didn’t think about placing,” she said.

But she did place, earning a shiny medal for her efforts and improving greatly from her performance in 2012, when she competed at the Junior Olympic national meet in Baltimore. Back then, she was in the intermediate girls division (ages 15-16), and she finished tied for 22nd with a clearance of 4-11 — six inches lower than she jumped this year.

The recent performance capped a successful 2013 for Hilger. This spring for the Braves, she cleared 5-5 for the first time at the Banks Invitational on April 20. A few weeks later, she repeated as Cowapa League champion in the high jump. Then, in late May, she put an exclamation point on her high school season with a runner-up showing at the Class 4A state meet in Eugene, topping her third-place result from a year before.

The national meet marked the first time since the Banks invite that Hilger cleared 5-5 in a competition.

To qualify for the national meet, Hilger had to advance out of two meets staged earlier this summer. She cleared 5-1 to take second place in her age division at the USATF Junior Olympic Oregon Association Championships in late June to qualify for the USATF Region XIII meet in Seattle. (Region XIII consists of Oregon, Washington, Alaska and part of Idaho.) There, in early July, she won the young women’s division with a 5-3 clearance to punch her ticket to the national meet.

Not only was the seven-day national meet significant in terms of scope, but it was also notable for the number of competitors Hilger faced — 41 other girls — and for the fact that she was trying a new approach in competition for the first time.

“It was kind of nerve-wracking for a little bit,” she said.

Over the summer, Hilger has been working on taking a longer run-up to the bar. She has been working with both Banks coach Rob Frank and with David Lemen, a coach at the Oregon City-based Willamette Striders Track Club, on the new approach, which was Lemen’s idea.

In the past, Hilger employed a very brief run-up — only five steps or so, which is much shorter than that of the typical high jumper. The new approach is about 10 steps long and allows her to build more fluidity and provides more time for her to accelerate, Frank said.

“During the season, I just didn’t want to mess with it because ... your marks kind of drop anytime you change your approach ... and then they jump back up maybe higher,” Frank noted. “You’ve got to have the time when you’re not competing to do that.”

Frank got the chance to watch Hilger employ the new approach in almost real time, even though he did not accompany her to North Carolina. Through an app called Coach’s Eye — which allows the viewer to watch a video in slow motion — Hilger’s mom filmed her jumps and sent them to Frank. He would then either call or text back with instructions.

“It’s kind of fun for me since I couldn’t go watch her,” said Frank, who also used the app to watch Hilger at the regional meet in Seattle.

Armed with her new approach, Hilger could go even higher next spring, her final one in a Banks uniform.

“It’s different, but I like it a lot,” Hilger noted. “Both of the runs are just completely different, but this one seems to work for me.”

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