CLAREMONT, Calif. – In 22 years of coaching, Simpson head track and field coach Dave Cleveland had never seen anything like the performance he got out of his star high jumper on Friday.
No, it wasn't a national championship. It wasn't a school record. It wasn't even a personal best.
But senior Kinsey Bak showed her coach that competition is as much mental as it is physical.
Hobbled by a torn hamstring, Bak put together an inspiring performance to place seventh in the high jump at the 2012 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps College.
"This was the highlight of my coaching career," Cleveland said. "To see an athlete perform at the level she did, given the circumstances was truly amazing."
Bak, a senior from Hinton, Iowa, cleared 5-feet, 5 3/4 inches on her second attempt to capture her fifth All-America certificate. The turning point in her day was clearing 5-feet, 4 1/4 inches on her third and final try. She attempted 5-feet, 7 inches but was unable to clear the bar.
"Going through what she did the last month of her senior season and to finish the way she did was very special," Cleveland said. "She taught me something … competing is mental as much as it is physical. She just found a way."
A week before the Iowa Conference Championships, Bak injured her hamstring while warming up for the 100-meter hurdles at a meet in Cedar Falls. The injury kept her from capturing a fourth-straight conference title in the high jump and from defending her crown as the conference's most valuable field performer, a title she earned in 2011.
"We didn't know what to expect today," Cleveland said. "She had only done rehab the past month and wasn't able to do much of anything else. (Athletic Training Program Coordinator) Mike Hadden did a tremendous job of getting her in any shape to compete."
After making the trip to California, Cleveland made the decision to test the hamstring for the first time. The test run didn't go well, but Bak got a feel for the pain she would have to endure.
"We shortened her approach and made adjustments as we went," Cleveland said.
Friday's memorable performance puts an end to a stellar career which impacted the Simpson track and field program on and off the track.
"What she did for this program you can go on and on about," Cleveland said. "She's not only been a great athlete but a great team leader and a great role model. That caliber of athlete and person doesn't come around very often – I am very fortunate I had the opportunity to coach her."
Coy qualifies for finals
Senior Ben Coy snagged the ninth and final qualifying spot in the 400 meters after running a 48.61 in the prelims on Friday.
From Jewell, Iowa, Coy is the first male athlete under Cleveland to qualify for the national meet. On Saturday he will have a chance to become the program's first All-American since 2005.
"Your goal in the prelims is to get a lane in the final," Cleveland said. "And he did that."
Coy placed fifth in a stacked second heat, which included five of the nine qualifiers. He finished right behind Josh Goerdt of Loras, who also beat Coy for the Iowa Conference Championship.
"He's had a tremendous year and he'll have as good a chance as anybody [in the finals]," Cleveland said. "I like how tough he is – he's not afraid to lay it out there. He's never tentative. We always get everything he's got."
Coy was a member of the track team as a freshman in 2009 but focused solely on football as a sophomore and junior before rejoining the team this spring.
"To be able to have the opportunity to do this as a senior after being out of the sport for two years says a lot about him," Cleveland said. "I've been impressed with how he approaches practices and meets. He's a true competitor."
Coy will be running out of lane one in the finals, which begin at approximately 5:50 p.m. Central time on Saturday. Catie Ellingson will compete in the 1500-meter finals at 4:50.