Last spring, Nakaja Weaver was a hurdler for North Brunswick Township High School’s track and field team.
But she had not yet found her event. Weaver only hurdled because the Raiders needed her to.
North Brunswick’s coach, Schwann Grimes, knew that Weaver didn’t love hurdling. So one day at practice, Grimes sent the strong, athletic sophomore across the track field to the sandpit.
At the pit, Grimes’ daughter and assistant coach, Danae Wise, was working with the team’s long and triple jumpers. Weaver got in line, waited her turn and then stepped up to jump. She leaped 10 feet across the sand.
Wise texted her father, who was working with other runners across the field.
“I said, ‘She’s staying here,'” Wise said, laughing.
Grimes texted back right away.
“He said, ‘Keep her down there,'” Wise said.
Weaver had found her event.
About a year later, in the NJSIAA Meet of Champions on Feb. 23, Weaver won the girls’ long jump state championship. The junior scored an 18-07.5 at the John Bennett Indoor Athletic Complex in Toms River.
“Jumping just looked really cool,” Weaver said. “And it is really fun.”
Weaver was a natural. But after her discovery last spring, she was also raw.
Her jumps were beautiful, but they rarely counted. Weaver usually ran too fast up to the line and stepped over it before she took off.
“She’d be a foot over,” Wise said. “It was a mess.”
But Weaver worked hard to improve her technique. After the spring season ended, she jumped almost every day in the summer. She also started watching YouTube videos of professional jumpers and elite high school jumpers.
In each video, the junior paid close attention to the take off point. She gradually noticed the key to executing a smooth leap.
“They lifted the first knee more,” Weaver said. “Not the knee they were taking off with.”
“They jumped higher and I decided I should try that,” Weaver added.
The student texted her coaches about the videos she was watching. They encouraged her to embrace the new technique.
But they were really just impressed by her dedication.
“We were like, ‘Go ahead girl, do your thing,'” Wise said.
After hundreds of reps and videos, Weaver applied her new technique all winter. And it worked.
Coming into the winter, her best high jump score was a 16-5. She beat that by almost two feet in the Meet of Champions state event.
“If she’s not the hardest worker we’ve ever had, she’s one of them,” Grimes said. “And she just loves the long jump.”
Weaver also loves the triple jump. In the spring, Grimes hopes she can win the triple jump and the long jump in the Meet of Champions.
“I thought the triple jump was her better event,” Grimes said. “So it’s scary to see what she’ll do this spring given what she did in the long jump.”
To recharge for the spring, Grimes made Weaver stop working so hard. The coach shut her down from practicing for the next few weeks. He wants her to use March to let her body and knees heal up for the spring campaign.
The junior is already talking to Division 1 collegiate programs, including the University of Georgia and the University of North Texas.
“This way she’ll be fresh by the Meet of Champs in May,” Grimes said. “We want to give those colleges a real good show.”