Gabby Williams is still trying to process what it means to clear 6 feet, 1.50 inches in the high jump as a 15-year-old.
In the span of eight weeks, the sophomore from Reed (Sparks, Nev.) became Nevada’s state record holder, a state champion, and now she appears headed for a spot in the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Heading into the NCAA Regional meets this weekend, only one woman in Division I has cleared a bar higher than Williams’ 6-1.50.
“I didn’t expect to get that high,” Williams said. “I thought maybe I could get to six feet by my senior year.”
But Williams, who stands about 5-foot-10, is well ahead of the curve. She is a standout basketball player from a hoop-centric family. Her father, Matt, played at the University of Nevada-Reno and also was a 6-10 high jumper for the track team there. Now, he is a central figure in Reno-area AAU basketball and this weekend is a big one. He runs the Jam On It Reno AAU Memorial Day Tournament, which will have 970 teams playing on 69 courts in the city this weekend.
The tournament will include Gabby, a point guard who was named Nevada’s player of the year in March, with her club teammates. An older sister, Kayla, plays professionally in Australia.
Matt Williams said he noticed Gabby had “bounce” when he taught her the fundamentals of hurdling and high jumping back in the seventh grade. It’s a talent that comes in handy on the basketball court as well as the high jump apron. Her vertical leap has been measured at 34 inches and she can dunk a tennis ball.
Williams moved up gradually from a 5-4 clearance in the seventh grade to 5-6 in the eighth grade. As a freshman last year she made 5-8 and won the state championship and then during the summer improved to 5-10.
This spring, Williams cleared 5-11 in the third meet of the season and hasn’t finished with anything lower since then. She also competes in the hurdles, and won the Nevada Class 4A championship in the 100-meter (US#29 14.11) and 300-meter (42.85) events.
Williams spent most of her practice time on sprints and hurdles, and devoted the tail end of Thursday practices to high jumping.
“She has amazing jumping ability,” said Ryan Cotter, one of her Reed jumps coaches. “Her belly button placement is at 6-4. We’re not quite there yet with her technique, but her ultimate goal is to beat the all-time (prep) record of 6-4.”
Cotter believes she will go even higher in meets with better competition. At the Nevada state meet, Williams finished at 5-11 and won by seven inches. She bowed out trying to top 6-1.
“I was so mad (to miss),” Williams said. “I was getting over it and knocking the bar off with my feet.”
A week earlier, at her regional meet, Williams surprised herself when she cleared 6-1.50. But she also took three attempts at 6-2.50 – the national sophomore class record – and came close to making that as well.
“She had it on the second one,” Cotter said. “She didn’t move back her mark so she took off too close to the mat and got (the bar) with her thigh.”
Looking ahead, Williams is targeting Great Southwest and then the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. It’s a heady prospect for a 15-year-old.
“I’m really excited (about the Trials),” she said. “I didn’t expect that either. It’s surreal to even think that I could qualify.”
Forty years ago, a 15-year-old high jumper named Cindy Gilbert actually made the U.S. team and competed at the 1972 Munich Olympics (no one that young has made the U.S. Olympic track team since).
It’s a safe bet that Williams will make the cut. In 2008, six feet even was the cut-off for making the Trials field. As of this week, she is tied for seventh on a U.S. list that includes American record holder Chaunte Lowe and four-time Olympian Amy Acuff.
The opportunity to go and compete at Eugene’s Hayward Field in the Trials is worth re-arranging the summer basketball schedule, Matt Williams said.
“I’m unsure how things work with the Olympic Trials, but we will change our summer plans so that she can do it,” he said. “Just the chance to be around those (other high jumpers) and see how they handle themselves, I think Gabby’s looking forward to that.”
It’s the kind of opportunity that could lead to another quantum leap forward for Williams’ budding track career.
But basketball remains No. 1.
“No doubt,” she said. “The main thing I want to do in college is play basketball, but my goal is to play basketball some place where they let me high jump, too.”