By Kyle LoJacono
Courtney Prengaman wrote her name into the record books at Wesley Chapel High more than once last season.
Not only did she set the Wildcats’ record for the high jump four times, which now stands at 5-feet, 7-inches, but Prengaman became the first girl in the school’s 13-year history to win a state track and field championship by clearing 5-6 at the Class 2A final.
The 6-foot-2 senior isn’t content with what she has already achieved and has been hitting the weight room, running her steps and working on her form with the goal of keeping the state crown atop her head.
Prengaman started high jumping while in seventh grade at Weightman Middle in Wesley Chapel.
She decided to compete in track because her older brothers, Justin and Alex, were distance runners, but the middle school coach thought her height would make her a better high jumper.
Prengaman’s first encounter with the event was anything but positive.
“I was terrified of it,” Prengaman said. “I was so scared to hurt myself. My very first track meet I didn’t even jump. I ran in circles the whole time. Just kept running up to bar and didn’t jump until I withdrew myself from the competition. The second meet I jumped, but I didn’t clear. Since then I’ve just kept setting higher marks.”
She continued to improve and tied Wesley Chapel’s record at 5-2 as a freshman. Two years later she hadn’t improved on that mark.
Prengaman admitted she wasn’t working as hard as she should have, but there was also something missing.
No one was pushing her to get better — until last season.
Brad Allen took over as the Wildcats girls track coach last season. He was an assistant the year before, which was when he first saw Prengaman.
“I went over and watched her one day, and she thanked me for doing that because no one ever did,” Allen said.
Allen is also Wesley Chapel’s boys cross country coach and trains the distance athletes, but he decided to take on the challenge of improving Prengaman’s jumps despite having no experience with the event.
“I ordered a DVD on high jumping from a magazine and looked up everything I could on YouTube,” Allen said. “I subscribed to an email to get links sent to me about high jump tips. Just pulling stuff from all these places.”
The help was welcomed.
“Before last year no one would ever watch me,” Prengaman said. “I had to teach myself to high jump, and I’d always end up napping on the mat during practice. Nobody ever said I was supposed to run fast or step a certain way. I was just relying on my height to get myself over.”
They started with the basics.
“First week of track he made me run the steps, and I wasn’t allowed to jump,” Prengaman said. “Then we piece by piece put it together until it was all right. … I ran my steps probably 300 times in a matter of a week. Now I can just do it and they’re perfectly fine because of that.”
Once they got the physical side down, Allen started working on Prengaman’s mental makeup.
“She always freaks out when she reaches a new height,” Allen said. “She’s got it physically. I’ve been working to make sure that she can see it too. … We have her keep trying to do something over and over without much rest in between. Jump, jump, jump so she doesn’t have to think about it.”
Having the school record and state title have helped show Prengaman what she can accomplish.
“I grew up with brothers who were really good at sports, and I never thought I could do anything like them,” Prengaman said. “Now that I’m learning that I can really do these things it still surprises me, but it’s starting to be real.”
She went into the offseason with a new mindset and motivation to become even better.
Prengaman kept training throughout the summer to keep her form.
She took a break from track to compete with the Wildcats volleyball team, a sport she picked up in middle school, but has focused on the high jump ever since that season ended.
“We’ve been putting her through a lot more workouts leading into the season,” Allen said. “A lot more jumps, lots of frog leaps, lots of upper body stuff too. We’ve got a couple weighted vests, and she’d be wearing them the whole time. I don’t know of anyone out there who can last as long as her with the vests, even the boys.”
Form has also been a focus.
“We’ve been trying to get her to arch her back when she’s going over and keeping her head back when she goes over, so there’s more that we can do on her form to make her even better,” Allen said.
The goal is not just for Prengaman to repeat as state champion, but to put up heights that will garner national attention.
“I have no doubt in my mind that we’re going to be doing 5-8, and really early in the season,” Allen said. “I’ll admit I kind of underestimated her last year, and I’m not going to do that anymore. There’s really no reason why she shouldn’t be clearing 5-10; 6-foot I hope. … This year for her parking pass I gave her 72 for 72 inches, which is six feet. I want her to be thinking about it. Getting 6-foot would put her in the top 10 in the nation going from last year’s stats.”
Prengaman said she is already jumping higher than she was last year, which gives her confidence in achieving her goals.
“I want to keep my state title; I want it to be mine,” Prengaman said. “I want to break the school record, make it a little higher and harder for someone to take. I want to do really well so that I can go into college and be ready for it. … Right now I’m a lot stronger than I was last year. Once I put my form with my steps, I’m going to jump so high.”
Prengaman said everything she has and will accomplish in the high jump is thanks to Allen.
“No one was going to let me cheat myself anymore,” Prengaman said. “He started making me actually work hard, and everything changed. … I wouldn’t have jumped 5-7 if he wasn’t my coach, and I wouldn’t have won states if he wasn’t my coach. I honestly believe that. I’m really thankful that he’s been my coach. He took the time to learn something so I could get better. I wouldn’t be going to college to high jump if it wasn’t for him. There’s no way.”
Prengaman plans to announce her college decision on Feb. 5 at the Wildcats signing ceremony. She starts her title defense in the Chasco Invitational at Gulf Feb. 22 at 4 p.m.
Prengaman and Wesley Chapel will compete in the Class 2A-District 9 meet is at Berkley Prep April 12, followed by regionals at Titusville Astronaut April 18 and states at the University of North Florida April 27.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker