NCAA champ ponders which way to jump next

July 19th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Sports

Amber Kaufman clearing the high jump bar

There is uncertainty in the road ahead for Amber Kaufman—a quandary other athletes might envy.

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa multi-sport athlete recently won the NCAA high jump title and is an All-American in volleyball after helping the Rainbow Wahine reach the Final Four in December 2009.

She recently became the fifth UH athlete to receive the Joe Kearney Award, given to the top Western Athletic Conference male and female athletes.

Kaufman has reached the pinnacle of two sports in her athletic career and achieved her goal of winning a national title. A future at the professional level is attainable in either sport…but which?

She isn’t sure which route to take, but with one year of eligibility left in track, she has a bit more time to figure that out.

Amber Kaufman ready to spike a volleyball

One thing she knows for certain, though, is that she made the right move coming to UH out of high school in San Jose, Calif., intending to compete in volleyball and track. “I don’t think it could have gone any better,” Kaufman said. “In volleyball, I started my freshman year and we made it further each year. Track, I won a national title. It can’t get much better. It was best decision I ever made.”

Kaufman cleared 6 feet, 1.25 inches to win the high jump at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships on June 9, 2010, in Eugene, Ore. The 6-foot-tall Wahine is just the second track national champion in school history; Gwen Loud won the long jump title in 1984.

Falling short several months earlier motivated Kaufman to push through in the outdoor season. She entered the NCAA Indoor Championships in March with the nation’s best mark, but finished second to Arizona’s Elizabeth Patterson.

“I didn’t want to feel that way (again) and it gave me that extra edge,” said Kaufman, who also placed third at the 2009 NCAA Outdoor Championships. “I wanted it more.” This time around, Patterson finished second to Kaufman.

On July 10, representing the United States, she cleared 6 feet, 1.25 inches once again, this time in Miramar, Fla., to win the North American, Central American, Caribbean Championships for athletes under age 23.

Volleyball and high jumping go almost hand in hand. Both require a vertical leap and Kaufman takes off on one foot in both sports.

“Most volleyball players have similar body types to high-level high jumpers,” observes Carmyn James, who heads the Rainbow Wahine track and cross country programs. “They are tall, lean and strong ectomorphs with high body-strength ratios.”

Volleyball is more fun of the two sports, admits Kaufman. She shies away from the individual attention that falls on track athletes, but she relishes clearing heights taller than herself. Her personal best is 6-4. She’s won the last three high jump titles at the WAC Outdoor Championships, captured the last two high jump titles at the WAC Indoor Championships and been to five NCAA Championships.

“I don’t like being by myself,” Kaufman says. “It’s nice to go higher than I never have before. But I’d rather have a team around me.”

One of the more exuberant members of an animated volleyball team, she helped the 2009 Rainbow Wahine reach the Final Four for the first time since 2003.

They lost to eventual champion Penn State in the semifinals. Kaufman, a middle blocker who averaged 2.45 kills per set, earned honorable-mention All-American honors. She also made the WAC All-Academic team for the fourth straight year.

Her eligibility completed in volleyball, Kaufman was freed from the spring practices she’d attended in previous years, giving her more time to focus on the 2010 indoor and outdoor track seasons.

“Amber was able to attend more high jump practices than she was able to during the past four years,” James says. “As a result, she is more in touch with the technicalities of the event. She has a better feel for the optimal run-up rhythm and she knows more intrinsically how to be totally tall at take-off and produce an explosive force. Basically she has had a chance to polish the parts and be a more consistent jumper.”

In fall 2010 it’s back to UH to finish her BA in psychology, complete her track eligibility…and figure out what’s next.

“I believe that she can become one of the top 10 high jumpers in the world,” James says. “It will take much more dedication and desire, but the potential is definitely there.”

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