As a longtime assistant in Hillsborough High School’s girls track program, Tierra Hicks has coached a parade of state champions and record-setters on the runways.
But she’s never seen a jumper quite like sophomore Kelsey Vieira.
“She’ll be the best jumper I’ve ever coached, hands down,” Hicks said. “The things she’s doing, it took (other stars) until their junior year to start picking up. Once she really starts growing and figuring out her body, her potential is going to be crazy.”
Vieira flashed that potential as a freshman last spring. At the Somerset County Championships she won the long jump with a leap of 17-7.25 and captured the triple jump with a 37-0.5. Her triple jump got up to 37-9.25 in Central Group IV, where she placed second.
This past winter season was relatively low-key for Vieira because the horizontal jumps are not contested in most indoor meets. She went 17-7 in the long, narrowly missing Ellie Ewere’s school record, and 35-7 in the triple while mostly focusing on other events. In practice, though, Hicks rolled out mats so Vieira could work on her approach.
“We did a lot of drills, working on the phases, understanding the takeoff,” Hicks said. “We don’t do much jumping.”
Added Vieira, “It was kind of frustrating (not competing), but I am extremely excited for the spring because I get to do what I love.”
Hicks said she thinks Vieira has a shot at the program’s records this spring: 18-7 by Ewere and 40-3 by Ebony Young. Ewere, who competes collegiately for Nebraska, has dropped by to offer pointers. Vieira is well aware of Hillsborough’s glorious jumping history.
“I do look up to them,” she said. “What they left behind pushes me more and more.”
Hicks has pushed Vieira to hit the weight room and expand her repertoire beyond the sand pit. Last year she split 1:00 in the 4×400. This winter she ran 8.8 in the 55 hurdles despite five-stepping.
“She grew about three inches from last year,” Hicks said. “She already has the speed. Now it’s cleaning up her form. You’ll see her in four events.”
In a scrimmage Vieira was on pace to break 15 seconds in the 100 hurdles before she clipped the final hurdle and came across in 16.3.
“The hurdles do help with my jumping,” she said. “They can be frustrating at times because it’s make it or break it, but I have gotten better at them.”
With Vieira scoring all over, Hillsborough should be formidable in a bid to repeat as Central Group IV champions. Senior Marlena Sabatino is a contender to win the Meet of Champions pole vault. Junior hurdler Olivia Mukendi is a returning sectional gold medalist. Sprinters Casey Kelly, Daija King and Amanda Castellano, distance runner Stephanie Mauer, and throwers Priscilla Senoo and Tre Murphy round out a strong nucleus.
“That’s one part I’m really excited about,” Vieira said. “We did well last year and we’ve clearly progressed.”
The same could be said for a certain ultra-talented jumper.