State track meet: Rancho’s Zinnerman ready for high jump

Rancho Cotate high jumper Justin Zinnerman hit a 6-9 at the NCS Meet of Champions despite tweaking his ankle on a previous jump. (CHRISTOPHER CHUNG / The Press Democrat, 2013)

Rancho Cotate high jumper Justin Zinnerman hit a 6-9 at the NCS Meet of Champions despite tweaking his ankle on a previous jump.
(CHRISTOPHER CHUNG / The Press Democrat, 2013)


A high school track meet isn’t exactly the Super Bowl, but it’s hard to imagine more pressure on a young athlete than the weight Justin Zinnerman felt last week at the North Coast Section Meet of Champions.

Zinnerman was attempting to clear 6 feet, 7 inches in the high jump when he rolled his ankle as he launched his first leap. Needless to say, that jump was not close. On his second attempt at 6-7, Zinnerman sensed the ankle wasn’t right and just sort of flopped on the mat.

There are two ways for a Redwood Empire athlete to qualify for the CIF State Track & Field Championships — finish in the top three in his or her event at the section championship, or hit the automatic qualifying mark in that event. The red line in the boys’ high jump is 6 feet, 7 inches. Three other kids had already cleared that height as Zinnerman took a breath and prepared for his final attempt. If he made it, he’d punch his ticket to Clovis. Miss it and his track season was over.

“I was just thinking about all the people who had an expectation of me going to state,” Zinnerman said Thursday. “I tried to forget about all that. I was tightened up a little bit. It was a hard moment for me.”

“I didn’t want to admit I’d just rolled my ankle. I had to put it together and figure out everything.”

Somewhere, Zinnerman found the resolve he needed to surpass 6-7. And he wasn’t done yet.

“When I cleared 6-7, my adrenaline was up so high — I didn’t forget about my ankle, but the adrenaline kind of took over,” Zinnerman said.

He nailed 6-8 and 6-9, too, and was crowned NCS high jump champion. So Zinnerman is headed to the state meet this weekend along with Maria Carrillo’s Dante Hay (800 meters) and Alex Netherda (300-meter hurdles), Ukiah’s Hugh Pegan (200) and Allyson Milone (discus), Santa Rosa’s Morgan Bertsch (high jump), Petaluma’s Allison Scranton (discus) and Casa Grande’s Nicholas Rauch (1,600). Another Casa qualifier, discus thrower Caleb Lundquist, has said he will skip the CIF meet to attend graduation ceremonies.

None come in more highly ranked than Zinnerman. He’s in a pack of six high jumpers who enter the Clovis competition tied at the top with seed marks of 6-9, though a couple of them reportedly have cleared 7 feet. Zinnerman has worked hard on his technique, but to be perfectly honest, the kid is a natural.

The first time he attempted a high jump was in eighth grade at Lawrence E. Jones Middle School in Rohnert Park. Zinnerman was perhaps the fastest kid in the school, but he was just fooling around when he took a shot at jumping at the final practice of the season. An assistant coach set the bar at 5 feet; Zinnerman cleared it without effort. The coach put the bar at 5-6; Zinnerman made it pretty easily. The coach raised the bar again, and told the boy it was at 5-8, which would equal the league record. But the coach was playing a mind game. The bar was really at 5-10. Zinnerman cleared it.

“I kind of knew I’d be good at it,” he said. “In eighth grade I could touch the (basketball) rim. I couldn’t dunk but I could grab the rim. I thought, if I can jump that high straight up, maybe I can get over a bar.”

Zinnerman leaped 6 feet as a freshman at Rancho Cotate, qualifying for the MOC, and went to state last year on the strength of a 6-6 leap. He hit 6-9 earlier this year at a triangular meet at Santa Rosa High.

All along, Zinnerman has continued to run. He was one of the North Bay League’s best this year at 100 and 200 meters, and was part of the Cougars’ very good 4×100-meter relay team. That talent helps Zinnerman in the high jump, too. Some leapers use explosive strength. Others are tall, lanky kids who seem to glide over the bar. Zinnerman relies on speed — as long as he harnesses it properly.

“He really has to be controlled,” Rancho Cotate track and field coach John Anderson said. “He has more speed than he can use in the high jump. His steps can get off if he’s overexcited.”

Zinnerman has the stamina to participate in all those events, but it does create the occasional logistical glitch. There have been times this year, especially at more chaotic invitational meets, when he took a few jumps, ducked out to run the 100 and returned to find they were putting away the high jump bar and mats. Other challenges emerged along the way. Toward the end of the season, Zinnerman was plagued by shin splints. Anderson said it didn’t affect him much in the sprints, where he strikes the ground flat-footed. But it was an issue in the high jump because Zinnerman plants on the ball of his foot.

The reaction was to limit Zinnerman’s jumps as much as possible, both at practice and at meets. At the Meet of Champions, for example, the competition started to compete at 5-10, and Zinnerman passed each height until it reached 6-2. He passed at 6-3, and again at 6-5.

Judging by the result, it’s hard to question the strategy.

Zinnerman leaves today for Clovis, and hasn’t put in a lot of jumping work this week. Anderson describes the past couple of days as more like physical therapy for the junior. It’s all geared toward getting Zinnerman into the state finals, which will include the top eight preliminary jumpers.

“We don’t want to jinx ourselves,” Anderson said, “but we’re expecting to be jumping on Saturday night.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or

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