Wally Ellenson’s goal for this year’s NCAA outdoor championships would’ve placed him in the top three at last year’s event.
Last week, Ellenson qualified for the 2014 NCAA outdoor championships, where he will have a chance to go after that goal and improve on his 2013 performance, a tie for eighth place.
Ellenson, a sophomore, is the only underclassman on the men’s track and field team competing in the championships, which will begin Wednesday in Eugene, Ore.
When asked if there was a specific height he hoped to clear at this year’s NCAA outdoor championships, Ellenson didn’t pause before answering: 7 feet 5 inches.
The high jumper has come close to that goal before, which gives him confidence heading into the championships.
“I feel that if everything comes together,” he said, “7 [feet] 5 [inches] should be a number I can hit.”
At the 2013 NCAA championships, Ellenson jumped 7 feet, 2 ½ inches.
In high school, he jumped 7 feet 1 inch in a regional meet — just two inches short of an Olympic trials qualifier.
Head coach Steve Plasencia said Ellenson’s natural ability is complemented by his willingness to put in the work.
“In the world of high jumping, he’s a hard, hard worker,” Plasencia said.
That same hard work extends beyond the confines of practice.
“Even when he was playing basketball, he was still coming out on his own and doing some work,” Plasencia said. “In the winter, when we weren’t around, he just continued to kind of work on his own.”
Ellenson was a member of the men’s basketball team for a season and a half before leaving in mid-February.
Now, track and field is his primary focus.
Ellenson mostly trains with assistant coaches Scott Berggren, the high jump coach, and Paul Thornton.
“I think that he has a unique talent,” Thornton said. “There haven’t been too many meets in his career he hasn’t been ready for. I think that’s a real credit to him.”
Ellenson will compete Friday, and he said the key to success is a balancing act between “staying calm and cool and knowing you need to perform.”
Ellenson is scheduled to arrive in Oregon on Tuesday. He’ll do a few hard workouts at the beginning of the week and then taper down as the week progresses to ensure his legs are fresh for Friday.
“We don’t have a huge group going [to the national meet], but we do have a very capable group going that [has] experience already,” Plasencia said.
Given Ellenson’s success so far, Plasencia said he could be looking at a potential NCAA championship at some point in his Minnesota career.
“I think he’s just beginning to scratch the surface of his talent,” Plasencia said.