TYRO – Mary Nebrich’s high flying track career nearly never got off the ground. Long before the West Davidson High School (WDHS) senior star became the top ranked high jumper in the state, a ninth-grade hip injury left Nebrich wondering if she ever would fly as high as her coach thought she could do.
Three years after her abbreviated introduction to the sport, Nebrich has cleared both physical and mental hurdles on her way to becoming the person to be beat in the high jump.
“In the moments leading up to the injury, I was really enjoying the high jump,” said Nebrich, “I was having fun until it happened, then I was devastated. I never thought I would get to the point where I am. I never had that confidence but this season has really been exciting. I never saw it in my future.”
WDHS Track Coach Kevin Troy did see a future for the tall ninth grader, who he convinced to give the high jump a try. Even though her introduction to the sport lasted less than 30 minutes, Troy felt Nebrich had what it took to become a force in the high jump.
“She’s a fantastic athlete,” said Troy. “The very first time I had her high jumping down here she hurt herself on the first day. We had made a lot of progress in 20 minutes and then I went to go work with some other kids. When I came back she was sitting on the mat and said her hip hurts. She couldn’t even walk, so I went next door to the middle school to get her mother. I told her mother ‘I think I broke your daughter.’ Her mother came down with the van and pulled it right up to the mat. It turned out she had a tendon issue and it ended up putting her out for the rest of her freshman year. She didn’t see a meet her first year.”
Nebrich arrived at West Davidson already an accomplished athlete. She excelled in swimming, a sport she took up at an early age, and basketball. She credits her parents, both of whom played basketball in college, as being a positive motivational influence on her as she advanced through her primary and middle school athletic years.
“My love for sports started when I was little,” said Nebrich. “I always loved sports and I loved doing activities. My parents always pushed me to do something every season so I think my love just came out of doing as much as I could as a child. My parents have been extremely important, from pushing me at an early age to play sports to making sure I always follow through with my seasons.”
“The summer before high school, my swimming career at Reeds Swim Club was going really well,” added Nebrich. “I was reaching high school times and I was very excited. I was also pretty successful at basketball so I thought those two sports would be the ones I did. Back then, I probably didn’t even know what the high jump was.”
Despite having an already full athletic schedule as a freshman, Nebrich found she had time for just a little more. When Troy approached her about possibly doing the high jump, Nebrich decided to give it a try. Troy knew the potential was there, he just had to find a way to bring it to the surface.
“She will run through a wall for you in terms of work ethic,” said Troy. “She’s in the weight room in the offseason; she’s down here on weekends. Her parents both played basketball at Methodist so she comes from a family of athletes. Her height definitely is an advantage in the high jump but her work ethic never wavers.”
With her hip injury feeling better, Nebrich returned to the track for her sophomore campaign. She felt slightly apprehensive upon her return, fearing a setback or another season-ending injury. As her sophomore year progressed, she managed her practice time in basketball and fought through general soreness in preparation for a return to the high jump.
“My freshman year turned out to be a lost season but I was glad it happened freshman year,” said Nebrich. “I was a little scared to take off and possibly injure myself. I still loved it so much and I wanted to build my strength back up so I could do it again.”
Losing her freshman season put Nebrich behind her other competitors, but she was determined to get up to speed as quickly as possible. Once the work started, however, she realized there was a lot more to the sport of high jumping than she originally imagined.
“I think it’s a hard sport to learn,” said Nebrich. “You have to be coordinated, but I think it was easier for me because I wanted it so much. There was a lot more to it than I had anticipated. I just kept working on the individual elements and eventually it all came together. The hardest part was not being scared to go over the bar. At first it can be pretty intimidating when you get up there to a high bar. It’s more mental than physical.”
Troy saw the progress Nebrich was making, but he also saw the many areas his fledgling jumper needed to work on. From there it was all about convincing her that she had what it takes to succeed.
“Sophomore year, her hip was fine,” said Troy. “She made progress throughout the year and I always saw the potential in her. She was getting plenty of height over the bar, but we had to work on not knocking it over.”
Nebrich started coming into her own during her junior season. Troy successfully integrated Nebrich’s athleticism from her other sports, particularly basketball, to help her get the feel for clearing a bar sitting at eye level.
“Basketball had a great impact on my high jump career, because when I was first learning coach told me to go up like I doing a layup,” said Nebrich. “He always used that metaphor between basketball and high jump and it really helped a lot.”
Despite a successful season that saw the Lady Green Dragons claim the conference and county championships, and Nebrich herself placing second in the regionals, there still remained one last barrier – 5 feet.
“She was so close to getting 5 feet,” said Troy. “I felt like if she could get over that 5-feet barrier the sky was limit.”
“I was definitely stuck at 5 feet for a couple years,” said Nebrich. “It was a mental block. I don’t think I had the confidence that I could clear it.”
Determined to clear the significant mental hurdle, Nebrich pushed herself on and off the track. She put in extra work in the weight room and was often spotted on weekends refining her skills. Her efforts came to fruition on a crazy day earlier this season when the senior competed in all three of her athletic loves in the same day. After qualifying for the state finals in both swimming and indoor track, both of which were scheduled for the same day, Nebrich had a decision to make. Being she also had a basketball game the same night, the possibility of competing in Raleigh, Winston Salem and Troy on the same day seemed daunting.
Thanks to her parents, and a little caffeine, Nebrich completed the trifecta, capping the day off with a 20-point effort on the hardcourt after showing up to the game at halftime.
“My mom definitely wanted me to push myself and do all three because she knew I’d have fun and it would be a great experience,” said Nebrich. “It was a lot of work, but I’m glad I did it. I had a 5-hour energy right before the basketball game.”
As Troy predicted, once Nebrich cleared five feet her high jumping career took flight.
“Once she got over the 5-foot-mark it has been a joy to watch the whole process,” said Troy. “I told her early on that if she worked at it she could be a state champion. The very first day, the day she got hurt, in the 20 or so minutes that I had her, I knew I had something special. I saw the potential in her right away. Once she figured it out, it has been game on. We have had a blast this year. We just have to keep working hard and she’s down here constantly. She’ll stay after practice and jump; she was down here during spring break. She sees what she can be. In order to get higher, we’ve got to keep working. Now that she’s over the mental block, she knows what she has to do. She needs to get stronger and faster in order to get higher.”
Once I finally cleared the 5-foot-mark, I just have that confidence now,” said Nebrich. “It was a weight off my shoulders.”
“So far this year, we’ve really clicked in the outdoor,” said Troy. “In her first meet here this season, she set new school records at 5’6”. At a meet in High Point, she competed against college kids and finished fourth out of 28 competitors. Basically, three D-1 athletes beat a high school kid. Once she got past that 5-foot barrier she’s never been below it. If she had jumped 5’4” at the indoor finals she would’ve been state champion. In that time period it clicked for her. As of right now, she’s the number one ranked high jumper in the state across all classifications. She is the person everyone is gunning for in the state championship.”
As her senior season winds down, Nebrich is constantly pushing herself. She plans to again compete against college high jumpers as she decides her future. Several options remain on her table and she’s in no hurry to make a decision just yet.
“If a track scholarship comes along from a school that has my major I would definitely take that up,” said Nebrich. “If something doesn’t work out, Chapel Hill is where I’m going.”
While scary, Nebrich would recommend the high jump to any young athlete looking to challenge themselves both physically and mentally.
“As long as you work at it, you can get there,” said Nebrich. “It doesn’t matter who you are. I would say don’t let any obstacle stand in your way. High jump is worth it. It’s a lot of fun.”