Jumps coach wins top award
To Deanna Thierolf, the jumps are like music and she is their conductor.
Brady Hudson remembers Thierolf’s constant chorus at Marion High School practices, calling out the beat for each jump.
For high jump, Hudson’s best event, it’s a crescendo of steps — fast, faster, fastest — before the jumper leaps off his or her strong leg to go over the bar.
Triple jump is three beats evenly syncopated — pop, pop, pop. Thierolf remarked that three-time state triple jump champion Braxton Skiles had a nearly flawless approach. She said triple jumpers often make up for a lack of athleticism by nailing the timing of the event.
Long jump is more like a timpani roll, building in the sprint, before the cymbal crash as the jumper slams off the board and flies feet first into the sand pit.
For any jump, Thierolf can have her back turned to the action and, by just listening to the sound of the leap, determine its effectiveness. As an example, she was watching James Jones school record setting jump of 23 feet, 3.75 inches in the long jump last year at regionals, but she was celebrating before anyone else.
“That was just a fun competition,” Thierolf said. “You just know when they nail one.”
When listening to her it’s obvious that Thierolf loves track and field. That love covers many aspects of the sport. Track season can signify the end of winter; it’s nice to get outside after being cooped up. She said she feels lucky to work with numerous great coaches. More than anything, she feels blessed to work with a variety of athletes, attempting to make them better.
Thierolf’s career results speak for themselves — 35 state placers and seven state champions. It’s why she won the Kansas Track Coaches Association jumps coach of the year in 2012. Current and former athletes say the award is overdue.
“It proves her ability to train athletes at that level,” 2010 MHS graduate Tylor Neil said.
There are many levels. The top level has athletes like Jones, Skiles, Amanda Janzen, and Julia Zeiner — jumpers that have the talent to win state championships.
Janzen was Thierolf’s first state champion in the high jump in 1993. Thierolf said Janzen was the type of athlete who would do whatever was asked. At the state meet in 1993, she ran the 3,200-meter run and did high jump. In regionals one year, she happened to throw the javelin for the first time in competition and she won the event.
Thierolf said Zeiner was another athlete who could have excelled in many different events. She won state twice in the long jump and once in triple jump. Because of Zeiner’s versatility, she was reliably consistent in all of her jumps approaches, a welcome foundation for Thierolf.
These athletes are motivated and talented. They may only need a few subtle adjustments — help with a mark or help with the landing in long jump — to succeed.
Then there are the jumpers good enough to place at state like Neil, fourth in the long jump and sixth in triple jump in 2010. Neil was a multisport athlete in his own right — football, wrestling, and track — but he did not have superior athletic ability like Zeiner. He made up for that by studying his jumps and working out any kinks in his form with Thierolf. Thierolf recalls Neil practicing his one-leg long jump landing repeatedly to the point she was worried he might hurt himself.
Then there are the athletes where a state berth is the goal like Hudson. Hudson looked at other competitors in the high jump — tall, long, and skinny — and knew he did not have the prototypical build for the event. That fact did not stop him from working everyday with Thierolf on backstretches and flips to help him get an extra centimeter or two to help clear a bar in competition. He came within one place of qualifying for state his senior season in 2010.
Then there are the athletes who are new to track and field, like Kadecha Gueary. Thierolf remembers Gueary being afraid to long jump her freshman year and petrified of jumping off a ramp into the high jump mat. Eventually, through relentless encouragement from Thierolf, Gueary overcame that fear. Last season, she qualified for state with a long jump of 15-9.75.
There are many different ways to coach, many different ways to inspire athletes. Thierolf chooses to motivate through nonstop enthusiasm and encouragement. Every athlete interviewed said that is who she is, on and off the field, but that style has made a difference.
There is a moment Janzen remembers after nearly 20 years. Not used to athletic failure, Janzen placed in the back half of the two-mile race at the state meet in Wichita. Even though she was having trouble breathing during the run, she was distraught after the finish. Thierolf would not let her dwell on the disappointing run and prepped Janzen for a championship jump.
“Sometimes as a kid, and in this life, all you need is one person like Deanna rooting for you and everything turns out for the best,” Janzen said.
Janzen proceeded to jump 5-4 in a steady downpour to win the high jump title.
For other athletes, Thierolf’s ability to build confidence starts even earlier. Zeiner and Neil both reflected on an important moment when they were eighth graders. Thierolf told them they were the future of Marion track and field and then had them jump with high schoolers.
“It made us feel good,” Zeiner said. “It really prepared us for high school.”
All of this said Thierolf’s most important impact on her athletes has come outside of track.
There is the classic instance of a former athlete using lessons learned from a sport and applying them to life. Neil works as the marketing manager at Magmegas Corporation in Tampa. He said Grant and Deanna Thierolf’s mantra of “always finish” has been equally helpful in business as it was in his jumps.
“As far as a business proposal is concerned, you always focus on the finish line,” Neil said. “You finish short in practice, you’ll always finish short in a meet.”
Deanna Thierolf’s impact on athletes goes deeper than that. The Hudsons and Thierolfs are friends, Deanna and Brady’s mom Jill went to school together. It was encouragement provided by Deanna that helped inspire Brady Hudson to move to Chicago and pursue an acting career. He is currently raising money working as a massage therapist to pay for more acting classes.
“She has always believed in me,” Hudson said.
Neil and Zeiner have also faced a recent life altering decision. Neil earned a track scholarship to Fort Hays State University. He said he went to school at FHSU for a semester before he quit track. He consulted with both Deanna and Grant Thierolf before deciding to go a different direction.
“I sacrificed a track career for business,” Neil said. “It’s tough giving up on track, but it’s second to school and second to the future.”
Neil still goes to school full-time in Tampa, Flor. He’s studying graphic design and other computer-related arts.
“The Thierolfs are the only people from Marion, outside of my family, who have asked me how I’ve been doing,” Neil said. “It’s nice to know you have someone back home rooting for you.”
Zeiner also decided to give up a track and field career at Kansas State University. After competing in the heptathlon with the Wildcats for two years, she said she decided to hang up her shoes. She was also faced with a conflict between track and her schooling at K-State in pre-physical therapy, a tough regimen of biology and other science classes. She also consulted with the Thierolfs before she made her decision.
“It really helped that my previous coach was there behind me,” Zeiner said.
Even more than the support, the Thierolf’s advice proved to Zeiner that their priorities are in the right place. Life is more than just sports and track, she said.
More than making her athletes better jumpers, Deanna Thierolf helped make them better people.
“I’m happy to have her as a coach,” Jones said.
Thierolf is looking forward to the track season. To see what Jones and Patrick McCarty, to name a couple jumpers with state aspirations, can accomplish this season.
She is also looking for new athletes to mold. After coaching Marshelle Mermis in middle school, Thierolf thinks the freshman is from the same stock as Janzen and Zeiner. Thierolf is just hoping she decides to choose a jump or two.