LAKEWOOD – Afraid that she had reached a plateau, Yareli Ochoa of Lakewood instead has taken some big leaps the past week.
The Cougar track star was thinking of quitting the sport and going to Everett Community College, eventually becoming a nurse.
But that changed when she won the state 2A championship in the high jump with a mark of 5-feet, 4 inches last weekend in Tacoma. Now, Central Washington University wants to give her a scholarship to compete in the jumps. That’s so new she hasn’t even signed her letter of intent yet. Winning state was key to her decision.
“I have a lot more potential I didn’t know I had,” she said Wednesday, adding she thought she had reached a plateau at 5-foot, 2 inches – a mark she has hit sporadically since her freshman year. Ochoa, who also competed in the 100-meter dash and long jump at state and was on a Lakewood relay team, said she was shocked to win the high jump.
She thought she had a better chance of winning the long jump because of success she had previously.
“It messed with my head,” she said, referring to how she pictured being a state champ in that event. She felt like she struggled with the board and landing all year.
Of the three events, she actually likes the 100 best. “In under thirteen seconds you’re done,” she said.
The high jump is her least favorite. “It’s mentally draining” because there is so much involved in technique, she said. “If you watch and see how high the bar is that can mess with you.” So, during competition, she doesn’t watch when officials raise the bar.
“I want it to look the same every time” from the start of the approach, she said. “What’s best for me is to not think about anything.”
Ochoa said fellow Cougar senior javelin standout Paige Shimkus has helped her this year improve her attitude. “I copied that mindset” of positivity, Ochoa said.
Ochoa played soccer when she was little, but in middle school her mother encouraged her to try all sports. So she also tried basketball and volleyball. But once she started high school she focused on cheerleading and track. This winter, however, she dropped cheer to train for track. She heard from friends that Momentum Performance in Stanwood could do wonders for her. It did.
“It was a huge factor,” said her jump coach, Monica Rooney. Ochoa said she had heard that working out is important to improve performance. But she enjoyed cheer and didn’t want to give it up. But she decided change this year.
“I never paid attention to how important it was,” she said of winter workouts. “I wanted my senior track year to be the greatest it could be.” She got off to a fast start, getting times and marks that were as good or better than near the end of the season last year.
She said she likes track because of how quickly she can see improvement. “You can see yourself improve over the season,” she said.
She also likes that it’s an individual sport. “If you do bad it’s on you,” she said. “You get out of it what you put into it.”
Ochoa has struggled with 5-foot-2 in the high jump. But when Rooney told her that she easily cleared that mark at state Ochoa’s confidence lifted, and she thought 5-4 was possible.
“But I was nervous, feeling shaky,” she said, adding she’s been known to “psyche myself out.”
Rooney knows that, after working with Ochoa for four years.
“Get into the zone. Stay in the zone,” Rooney recalled telling her.
Her coach added she needed to “focus less on technique, shut everything out and just believe in herself.”
“She knows what to tell me,” Ochoa said. “Flush out the negativity and the bad stuff and go take care of business.”
She did. She was the second jumper out of seven left at that height. She made 5-4 for the first time ever.
“It set the tone for the rest of the jumpers,” she said. Rooney said hitting that mark first put a lot of pressure on the other jumpers.
And while Ochoa came through on the pressure jump, she and her coach watched as the others didn’t.