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By Randy York
There’s a reason why Gary Pepin was the most successful track and field coach in the history of the Big Eight and the Big 12 Conferences. His teams’ strengths were rooted in the jumping events. That’s why the Huskers are known across the country, even around the world, as “Jump U”, and that’s what Pepin’s teams did Friday at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. They jumped ahead of the men’s and the women’s teams in Day One of the first-ever combined Big Ten Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships.
Even though the Huskers performed well in the opening day’s preliminary sessions and set themselves up for a deep and determined run to win one if not two Big Ten team championships, Friday’s bottom-line difference was blowing in the sand. Nebraska kicked more than half its men’s points in the face of the competition, scoring 24 of its 45½ points in the long jump. The Huskers also scored eight of their first-day leading 45 women’s points in the long jump.
For those who don’t know, Pepin coaches Nebraska’s long jumpers, and here’s the sweetest part about that: They’re a team-first group that not only supports great individual effort, but actively roots each other on. The Nebraska spin on that is simply this: They all stick together in all kinds of weather. How else do you explain German native Patrick Raedler achieving a career-best jump on his last one of the night to move into first place only to see teammate Chris Phipps overtake him on his last jump and then Raedler is absolutely ecstatic that Phipps got the gold and he earned the silver?
“I am really happy for Chris because he’s a senior at Jump U. This is his last year, and he’s a really good jumper and deserves to win,” Raedler said. “I have three more indoor seasons to win one. It’s about the team, man. Chris and I are just as excited about our other two teammates who scored in the long jump. Seth (Wiedel) finished fourth and Bobby (Carter) finished eight. That’s six more points for our team.”
Raedler reached 24-9¾ to put the pressure on Phipps, and he responded with a 25-4 effort to win. “I see God’s work in that jump,” Phipps said. “I hit 26-7 my sophomore year in the Senior USA at Drake, and I’ve had trouble in a lot of meets getting over 25. I keep telling myself: ‘Come on, now. I’ve done it before, and it’s time to do it again.’ I knew it was there. I’ve just been waiting for God’s timing.”
Friday night was the time for 21-year-old Chris Phipps from Patterson, N.J.
“Chris, I knew you could win it. You just had to go out and do it,” Pepin told Phipps.
“You’re right, Coach,” Phipps said. “That’s what I needed to do.”
His need was not based on ego. It’s a confidence builder, and now Phipps hopes his winning jump under self-imposed pressure lights the match that will fuel a competitive fire. “I’ve been here four years now,” he said. “I’m a four-time All-American, but I’ve never won a big meet until tonight. The timing was good, and I’m grateful for it, but it’s still about team.”
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