Breanna Eckels was equipped with all the necessary tools to become a high-level track and field athlete.
The Southeast junior is fast and most of that came naturally, as did the muscles that allow her to propel herself through the air and soar long distances. With a package like that, Eckels was inherently better than a lot of her competition.
But Eckels isn’t a story of a special talent taking it for granted. Eckels’ is a story of a special talent that seized the opportunity to chase greatness.
Eckels enters Friday’s state track and field meet with the No. 1 marks in long jump (19 feet, 6 inches) and in triple jump (38 feet, 11 inches). She has won the Class 6A title in both events, but not both in the same season.
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It’s an attainable goal, not because of Eckels’ natural gifts, but because of the work she puts into her craft. She will compete in long jump Friday at 4:45 p.m. and in triple jump Saturday at 9:45 a.m.
“That, in my opinion, is what makes people what you would call an elite athlete,” said Southeast jumps coach Patric Jackson. “She wants to learn all of the little pieces and put in all of the work. She truly is a student of her event.”
Eckels entered Southeast as an accomplished jumper on the AAU circuit. She was already competing at a high level with her father training her.
Over the years, Southeast coach Mark Lamb has seen similar cases have their careers derailed by their stubbornness when it came to high school coaching. Some listened, but didn’t follow instructions; others just ignored it completely.
“It’s very impressive and one of the reasons why she’s as successful as she is,” Lamb said. “It’s a pleasure to have someone as talented as Breanna is and to have her be that coachable. You don’t get that every day.”
Eckels wanted a teacher she could respect and learn from. Jackson met the requirements, being a former Division-I athlete at Wichita State and a Southeast graduate who still holds the school record in the high jump.
Now every practice is like a competitive meet.
“I love practicing and going through all of the drills and working through them each time,” Eckels said. “You can feel yourself get a little better and better with every rep. I just really like feeling and seeing that improvement.”
Another trait that sets Eckels apart is that she’s already able to analyze her own jumps. Jackson has drilled her so many times that her muscle memory tells her what is and isn’t a good attempt.
“It’s different telling someone else what to do, but when you’re actually doing it you know how it feels to do it right and how it feels to do it wrong,” Jackson said. “She’s able to recognize almost immediately how it feels and make adjustments based on that.”
Eckels has the potential to 20 feet in the long jump and 40 in the triple jump. Both are exclusive clubs, as only five females have hit that mark in the long jump and eight in the triple jump in state history.
She appears to be headed down that path after piecing together a dominant junior season. She has won every long jump and triple jump event she has competed in this season and her consistency has been outstanding — she’s only dipped below 18 feet in the long jump and 38 feet in the triple jump once.
“That’s why I like track so much is because you can’t rely on anybody else’s ability to get you the win,” Eckels said. “You’ve got to have the skill on your own and you’ve got to have the heart to do it on your own.”
Coaches point toward Eckels’ breakout season in the sprints as another reason why she’s jumping longer this season. Eckels has always been fast, but this season she qualified for the open 100-meter dash and will run a leg on Southeast’s state-qualifying 400 relay team.
“Down the runway, off the board, everything is just more explosive this season,” Jackson said.
There’s little debate who the best jumper in Kansas is. Eckels has proven that with her body of work this season. She says she is satisfied with what she has accomplished, but the big meets are what she trains for.
After winning the long jump title last season and the triple jump title in 2013, Eckels has put herself in a position to win both this season because of her tenacious work ethic in practice.
“After you’ve won once, it really is something to live up to,” Eckels said. “It’s a lot of pressure, but I love what I do. When you are good at what you do, then you want to win at what you do. I think winning both would be pretty amazing.”