WICHITA — Peering at the bar set at 5-foot-6, higher than she has ever cleared, Cherryvale’s Bethany Umbarger only had one thought going through her head.
“I started singing to myself,” Umbarger said.
The song? “Hot Wings” from the kids movie, “Rio.”
The lyrics? “I wanna fly and party.”
Moments later, Umbarger cleared the bar and secured the state title in the Class 3A high jump at the KSHSAA State Track and Field Championships.
“If I’m singing, I can just get focused and jump,” Umbarger said. “I knew 5’6” was in the cards for me today.”
When Umbarger rose from the pad, it was party time. The junior high-flyer from Cherryvale let out a war cry, threw her hands in the air and leapt into her coach’s arms.
“It’s pretty incredible to have a kid that works as hard as Bethany does, and wants to be as good as Bethany is, achieve this,” Cherryvale high jump coach Mike Lewis said. “Bethany is a fighter and loves the competition at a higher level.”
Scenes of exhilaration provided a stark contrast to Umbarger’s performance a year ago at state, where she finished last in the high jump and ended the year in tears.
“I was dead last,” Umbarger said. “It was a disappointment. Ever since that, this year has been a revenge year. Everything is personal.”
The stain from 2022 served as 2023’s motivation for Umbarger.
“It was great to see her bounce back from that memory of last year,” Lewis said. “That’s really driven her to compete and get mentally tougher.”
Umbarger’s state title on Friday didn’t come easy in Wichita. The junior outlasted a career-best showing from Council Grove senior Lily Zeigler, who will play college volleyball at Emporia State this fall.
Zeigler cleared every height through 5-foot-2 without a miss and only missed once at 5-foot-4, her personal best. Zeigler eventually failed to clear 5-foot-6.
Umbarger had at least one miss at every height except 5-foot-4 as some early yips crept in.
While she normally enters a meet at 4-foot-8, Umbarger started at 4-foot-10 on Friday.
“There’s so many things that can make a jump go wrong,” Umbarger said. “I wanted to start higher today and maybe that was my mistake. I wasn’t completely focused. But after those first few misses, I had to focus up.”
Lewis credited Umbarger for making on-the-fly adjustments.
“It was some technical things early,” Lewis said. “Sometimes she has an issue where she leans a little early. Another jump, she started too far out. We got those things cleaned up.”
The 5-foot-6 mark not only gave Umbarger a gold medal at state, but also set a new Cherryvale school record.
“I have a lot of confidence now,” Umbarger said. “I feel like I deserve it. Practices in the rain and cold. That’s what you have to do if you want to do well.”
Umbager isn’t done at state as she’ll compete in the Class 3A triple jump on Saturday. But for now, the junior can bask in the knowledge that nobody in Kansas in her class can jump higher than her.
“I’m really happy for Bethany,” Lewis said. “It’s something we’ve been working towards all year. I’m glad she did her best at the biggest event of the year.”
Other Day 1 morning session results from area schools
Brock Roberton of Cherryvale medaled in the 3A boys high jump, clearing 6-foot-0.
Josie Conner of Cherryvale finished 12th in 3A girls pole vault, clearing 9-foot-0.
Makinzie LaRue of Erie placed 14th in 2A girls 100m hurdles prelims with a time of 17.91 seconds.
Zoe Hiben of Oswego placed 15th in the 1A girls 400m dash prelims with a time of 1:05.05.
Ella Burnett of Erie medaled in the 2A girls high jump, placing third with a mark of 5-foot-0. LaRue also competed in the event, placing 16th and clearing 4-foot-6.
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