OTTAWA LAKE, Mich. — When Whiteford track coach Jim Hojnacki first spotted a sixth-grader named Miranda Johnson trying the long jump for the first time, she immediately got his attention.
Johnson is now a junior with three state titles to her credit.
Her leap of 18 feet, 2½ inches in the long jump at the Division 4 state meet Saturday in Hudsonville, Mich., broke the meet record of 17-11 and earned Johnson a second straight state championship in the event.
“I definitely worked hard to get here and to be able to do this,” Johnson said. “I'm not sure it has fully set in.”
Johnson also won a state title in the 200-meter dash with a time of 25.94 seconds. She was just edged out in the 100 with a time of 12.86, finishing behind Ashey White (12.79) of Detroit Edison.
“My main goal was to get the state long jump record,” she said. “I achieved that early in the day. I would have been satisfied with placing in the other events, so the rest is extra bonus.”
Hojnacki said Johnson could win all three events next season.
“I would not be surprised if she gets the trifecta,” he said.
Hojnacki said her confidence first began at an annual field day event for sixth-graders about five years ago, when some of the middle school kids were experimenting with the field events.
“We bring them out to do this and that, and some of the kids tried the long jump. I saw Miranda, and there was this explosion,” Hojnacki said. “I told her that day that she would have been my top high school jumper as a sixth-grader.”
Johnson said she remembers the day vividly.
“When I first jumped, I liked it,” she said. “I had people say, ‘Wow, did she really just jump that far?’ That’s when it caught my eye. I thought I’d give it a try. When I was younger I liked winning. It’s just you. When I first ran the 200 I never knew how fast I was.”
Hojnacki said some young prodigies reach their maximum potential early.
“Every now and then you see a young kid who is outstanding. They peak out and they're done,” he said. “But Miranda has kept up with her development. She does strength training and speed training. You have to work hard and go for it.”
Johnson also anchored the Bobcats’ 400 relay team that tied for 16th at the state meet. Whiteford placed sixth in the team standings, the program’s highest finish ever.
“It’s important to her to be there for her teammates as well,” Hojnacki said. “She wanted to be a part of that relay and help the other girls make it too.”
Hojnacki rarely sees Johnson compete because he is coaching his other athletes in other events. But he said superstition also is involved.
“I’m as superstitious as anyone,” he said.
His wife, Marcia, the team’s assistant coach, lends support for Johnson.
“I keep him away,” Johnson said. “He has never seen me jump. The one time he watched I didn’t do very well. But he likes to make me laugh before events to keep me focused. I love to see the surprised look on his face when I tell him what I did. He’s the greatest coach.”
On Saturday, Johnson scratched on two of her three jumps in the preliminaries, but qualified for the finals with a 17-7.
“I had one clean jump,” she said.
On her first attempt in the finals, Johnson broke the state record. She then reached 18-0 on her second jump. Johnson said she decided to go for the overall, all divisions state record of 19-9 on her final attempt.
“I knew I had it in me, so I backed up a few feet before the last one and ran just as fast,” she said.
The leap was measured at 18-11. But Johnson had crossed over the takeoff board slightly and faulted.
“I hit the board by a toenail,” she said. “I know I can do it and I have another year.”
Johnson said she always starts 78 feet back from the board.
“Every year I was redoing my steps. But the last two years I’ve been consistent,” she said. “I don’t even look at the board at this point. If I look down, it limits me.
“I probably could do it blindfolded,” Johnson added, laughing.
Hojnacki said Johnson has incredible speed down the runway and does not miss a step.
“She will be over 19 [feet] next year with her comfort level and confidence level," he said.
Johnson, who carries a 3.64 grade-point average, also plays volleyball. She works out three days a week at Athletic Republic in Toledo.
“I work on incline running and lower body and upper body strength,” Johnson said.
Hojnacki said Johnson could be on the same high plateau as former Whiteford three-sport standout Josh Dupree, who won state championships in the 100 and 400 in 2008.
“He was an outstanding athlete and one of the most well-decorated athletes here,” Hojnacki said. “Miranda has the ability to have that label. She could be one of the most accomplished athletes to come out of Whiteford.”
Johnson said she’s already planning to compete after high school.
“There’s no doubt I want to jump in college,” she said. “I really want the overall state record. If I work hard enough like I did this year, I could get it.”
Contact Mark Monroe at:
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