Born on the same date, senior jumpers share similar successes

Seniors Kevin Netzer and John Albert each have won Big Ten high-jump championships.

by David McCoy

Aug. 22, 1982, was a good day for Minnesota men’s track and field coach Phil Lundin.

That was the day John Albert and Kevin Netzer were born. And later, they’d both win a pair of Big Ten high-jump titles for Lundin as members of the Gophers.

Minnesota is now without the services of a pair of other solid high jumpers from last year after the graduation of Bryant Howe and Josh Paulson, who were 7-foot jumpers.

But with seniors Netzer and Albert, Lundin doesn’t expect to miss a beat – or a jump.

“The high jump has been a real strong event for us the last 10 years,” Lundin said. “And these guys are part of the reason for that.”

Besides sharing a birthday, Netzer and Albert share a strong friendship and a residence – and a healthy competition that pushes them to new levels.

“We’re extremely competitive,” Albert said. “I can’t stand losing to him, and it happens more than I’d like. But it just pushes us.”

While both are competing for team points in each competition – especially Big Tens and NCAAs – at the end of the day, only one can stand on the top tier of the podium.

And while there is no doubt they’d both give their all no matter what team they were on, having them together provides that extra edge.

“After we’ve scored points for the team, we want to take out the other guys we practice against so we can hold it above their heads,” Albert said. “It makes it fun.”

But a team with so much depth at one event begs the obvious question:

How can there be so much depth on one team at one event?

For one, Lundin has a knack for finding the diamonds in the rough.

“They’re three-sport guys in many cases,” Lundin said. “When you recruit people, you kind of have to take that into consideration. They might not be in the top 25 or ranked in the top 50 even within the high school ranks. But if you look at it in the terms of opportunities provided or their actual training age, they eventually might be pretty darn good as a collegian when they specialize. We’ve been reasonably good in regards to predicting talent.”

Another big reason for the depth in high jump is what you’d think would prevent depth by scaring recruits away – the guys already there.

“Having training partners that are strong competitors just adds to the drama,” Lundin said. “Everything we do in practice just kind of becomes a competition. And as long as it’s done in good faith and for the fun of it, it tends to push people to higher levels.”

Good coaching and development certainly doesn’t hurt either.

“A big thing is, Phil knows what he’s doing with high jumpers,” Albert said.

Lundin said: “You get a system that, over the years, you tend to find works. And then for each person as they go through, and you find their proficiencies and their strengths; you kind of fine-tune it for each guy. And I guess we found a formula that works really well for high jumpers.”

The loss of Howe and Paulson has made some impact, however. Netzer said having half the guys in practice occasionally can lead to lower-quality training.

“Before, we had four guys, so we usually had at least two guys that would have real good days,” Netzer said. “Now if one guy has a bad day, we usually both do.”

And even without Netzer and Albert next year, Minnesota’s strong high-jumping tradition is expected to continue.

Lundin said he likes to add one new recruit to the mix every year, and a pretty good one will join the Gophers next year with Matt Fisher of Green Bay, Wis. Fisher already has jumped 6 feet, 10 inches in high school and was a Wisconsin Division I state champion.

“I hosted him on his recruiting visit,” Netzer said. “I think he’ll be one of the best high jumpers ever to compete at Minnesota.”

With the likes of Albert and Howe, that’s about as high of a compliment as he could get.