Bar is set for Rainbow high jumper Kaufman
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
As Amber Kaufman soars into the NCAA Indoor Championships tomorrow in Fayetteville, Ark., there are probably just two people who can prevent her from becoming Hawai'i's first track & field champion in 26 years: Arizona's Liz Patterson and Kaufman herself.
The two have traded top rankings in the high jump this season. Patterson, a senior, goes in No. 1 at 6 feet, 3 1/2 inches. A year ago she finished second at nationals, despite jumping more than an inch higher, when Texas' Destinee Hooker set an indoor record of 6-6. Patterson is coming off a second-place conference finish, falling to freshman teammate Brigetta Barrett two weeks ago.
The freshman jumped a personal-best 6-2[0xa4]. So did Patterson, but she had more misses. According to Cal assistant coach John Rembao, Patterson was also favoring her knee.
Kaufman's best jump this season came soon after her honorable mention All-America volleyball season ended. She cleared 6-3.25 in altitude at the Lobo Challenge. No one else was close when she captured her second straight Western Athletic Conference Indoor title.
Rembao has guided the careers of four Olympians — including wife Sue McNeal-Rembao — and 15 NCAA champions. He also served as USA Track and Field Women's High Jump Development Coordinator 10 years.
He marvels at how similar Kaufman and Patterson are built and how different their styles are. He characterizes Kaufman as a finesse jumper with a "smooth, deliberate" approach and "beautiful tempo." In contrast, he describes Patterson as someone who makes the most of her speed and strength.
"Both are good-size young ladies, not your skinny prototypical high jumper who looks like a bird," Rembao says. "They both have a really nice touch off the ground, they are very explosive. In a lot of ways they seem a lot alike. Amber has more meat to her than Liz but not much. It's ironic because Amber runs like she's lighter than Liz, like a gazelle."
Rembao said Cal track wanted Kaufman badly when she came out of high school a few miles south in San Jose, but "our volleyball team was not as interested as we were."
Rainbow Wahine volleyball was extremely interested, and it paid dividends when Kaufman became one of the most dynamic offensive threats out of the middle her last two seasons. Rembao believes the cross-training only helped. Her position demanded she run around the setter often and do lots of single-leg takeoffs. Both motions are critical in high jump, as is the premium on going straight up and not out.
Kaufman is like no one Hawai'i has seen in her specialty, dominating the WAC the last two seasons and taking fifth, sixth and third — one miss behind Patterson — at three previous NCAA Championships. Her performance at her inaugural NCAA earned her a place at the 2008 Olympic Trials, where she advanced to the final round.
Since then, she and coach Carmyn James have worked extensively on technique, particularly keeping her "totally tall" at takeoff and, recently, polishing the "Kaufman Curl" in the air and over the bar.
Kaufman's key, in Rembao's eyes, is to "have fun."
"It seems like she is always in a really good place at meets. Carmyn has that personality, too," Rembao says. "If she can keep her that way at nationals it will really help her. Usually you go to nationals and realize how important it is and get so serious. The person that can go there and be themselves and not let it get to them does fine, but 80 percent of them will be different that day."
He sees Patterson's key as something very different.
"Liz's great strength is that she won't give up," Rembao said. "It's not over until she has taken the last jump. I've seen her pull things off you can't believe."
Gwen Loud was the only Rainbow Wahine to capture NCAA Track & Field gold, in the long jump in 1984. The late Terry Albritton won the 1976 NCAA title in shot put. Albritton was inducted into the UH Sports Circle of Honor this year.
The Outdoor season starts next week for UH, at the Northridge Spring Break Open and USC Invitational.
The Rainbow Wahine moved up to 36th in this week's USTFCCA Indoor rankings.
This is the fourth year Hawai'i has someone at NCAA Indoors, with pentathlete Annett Wichman going from 2007 to 2009 and Kaufman going the past two years. Wichmann's best finish was fourth in 2008.