By Greg Klein STAFF WRITER
---- — Creative visualization works. Just ask Lucy Ford.
Ford didn’t know it as creative visualization at the time, but it may have helped her win a state championship anyway.
The Cooperstown junior, who turned 17 in May, spent at least part of her basketball season staring up at the track and field banners at Red Bursey Gymnasium, noticing a big hole under Alec Silvera’s D-II title banner for winning the 110-meter hurdles in 2010 and 2011.
“See what I mean,” she said to her coach Connie Herzig, thinking back on those winter daydreams. “It’s the perfect place for a banner.”
Ford’s banner will arrive in the fall, Herzig said.
Very little else has changed for Ford since Saturday, she said. She’s still a middle child, with no special accord from her older brother or little sisters. She said she isn’t big on social media, so her Facebook or Twitter haven’t blown up with friends or followers. Colleges have sent letters, but although they can phone her now that her season has ended, no one has yet.
Even her mom, Amy, still teases her.
“I wonder what Mr. Niles is going to say knowing you were thinking of track during basketball season,” she said to her daughter on Monday.
Ford said the biggest change is locally where people she had never spoken to approach her to say congratulations.
“Kids at school I have never talked to or been friends with were coming up to say congratulations. That was nice,” she said.
Herzig said a lot of Ford’s success is mental.
“With most girls a lot of coaching is getting past all the emotions to get ready to work,” Herzig said. “In other words, you spend a lot of time working to get ready to work. Lucy isn’t like that. She is able to just go out and do the work that she needs to do to get better.”
Ford is also Herzig’s first state champion in 31 years of coaching, including 22 at Cooperstown.
Herzig’s enthusiasm is bubbling over. A little scream counts as her response to the questions ‘how does it feel?’ Her smart phone photo is a shot of Ford clearing a jump on Saturday, emailed to Herzig by a section track official.
“I think it may have been 5-5,” she says while double checking that Ford had seen it.
Herzig has also been getting lots of congratulations.
“All the old coaches have called,” she said. “Don Howard, Joe Kennedy, who both have state champions with the boys at Cooperstown have called. A lot of my fellow coaches have called. They say ‘welcome to the club.’
“It feels fabulous, but it really feels fabulous for Lucy,” she continued. “As I have said before, Lucy’s gift is her personality,” she added. “She never gets too high or low. She has an amazing ability to handle adversity.”
Ford certainly had plenty of opportunities with adversity this season. She pulled the deltoid muscle in her left ankle on May 4 during the Don Howard Invitational and missed two weeks including the Center State Championships. She worried she might not be able to return, but the injury was not as serious as feared.
“I think that was the hardest part,” Ford said, “the not knowing. The waiting.”
She returned in good form May 23, winning the Section Three Class C meet at Sauquoit Valley and then the state qualifier on May 30 at Cicero-North Syracuse.
Although Ford won the meets, she came out of the qualifier sore again. Since she pushes off with her left ankle, the injury was in one of the worst possible places for her. Then, in Middletown, she got caught off guard by a bad series of jumps at 5-2.
“Yeah, that was ugly,” Herzig said, causing both of them to laugh at the moment when Ford was down to her last jump. That moment, lasted 30 minutes, until Ford’s next jump.
“I ran sprints,” Ford said when asked what she did to prepare for her final try at 5-2. She turns to Herzig. “You had me run sprints. I think that really helped.”
“You got unwarmed up, waiting,” Herzig answered.
Even the third jump wasn’t perfect.
“I hit the bar a little with my shoulder,” Ford said. “I had a sunburn there and that’s what I felt.”
At 5-5, Herzig could tell early. She almost got kicked out of the meet for leaving the coaches box to hug Ford, a memory that will most likely make each of them laugh for the rest of their lives.
“It was the most beautiful jump I have ever seen,” Herzig said, more than once.
Ford’s state title ends a significant piece of Cooperstown history, with the retiring of the district mascot “Redskins” on June 30 in favor of “CCS Hawkeyes.” It is a change she is aware of, but not passionate about.
“I was not one of the people who thought of the nickname as offensive,” Ford said, adding that it makes her happy that maybe she could give Redskins a going-away-present. “I think it will mean a lot to people, like giving back.” But she said she’ll be happy to win another title as a CCS Hawkeye. “It’s a state title, I won’t complain,” she said.
This summer Ford will work, play travel basketball, get ready for swimming and diving season, and maybe enter equestrian events with one of her family’s horses. She’ll return to Mike Pascuzzo’s high jump camp, probably when he is in Vermont like last summer.
“His website said 94 state champions,” Ford said. “Now he can put 95, and the girl who won Division I (Jackie Crunden from Walt Whitman) was at the camp too, so now he can change it to 96.”
Colleges will be calling soon, Herzig assures Ford.
Crunden, who jumped 5-6, is a senior. Ford is a favorite to win the Division II title again next year and a candidate to win the entire state. Herzig said Ford jumping 5-8 next year is possible if she keeps improving.
Colleges will be calling soon Herzig assures Ford, who is 6-1 and also runs sprints and throws shot put for CCS.
“Do I think Lucy is a Division I college high jumper?”
Another yell comes from Herzig, this one more like a cheer.
“Absolutely. She’s already jumping high enough at the level she is jumping to compete in college. And a good coach will take her even further. Plus she’s got major heptathlon potential,” she said.