Jan. 27, 2000

by Peter Stuhldreher

Years ago, at an elementary school field day, Jennifer Engelhardt was entered in the high jump competition. She won the event, fell in love with the sport, and has had “a passion for it ever since.” This year, Engelhardt, a 5-10 senior from Battle Creek, Mich., and co-captain of the track team, is attempting to improve on her impressive career and lead Notre Dame to a BIG EAST Conference title.

Engelhardt began to come into her own in the high jump in her time at Michigan’s Lakeview High School, where she won four letters in track and field, as well as diving. She was a two-time all-state recipient and four-time all-city and all-conference selection. She won the high jump at the prestigious Midwest Meet of Champions in 1996, and then went on to win the 1996 state indoor high jump championship with an record jump of 5-feet, 10 inches. Before that meet, Engelhardt had never cleared 5-7.

During her senior year at Lakeview, Engelhardt was ranked fourth in the nation by Track and Field Magazine for female high school high jumpers. She credits a lot of this early success to her high school coaches, Al Leibert and Bill Dolezal.

“Basically, they got me started and played a significant role in my life as an athlete, and outside the track as well.”

After all this success, Engelhardt was offered multiple college athletic scholarships, including to the University of Michigan. However, she chose Notre Dame because she really enjoyed meeting the coaches and the team on her recruiting trip and “instantly felt like part of the family.” She also discovered a “sense of unity at Notre Dame which Michigan didn’t really have.”

Since her arrival on campus four years ago, Engelhardt has tried to make the most of her opportunity as a student-athlete. In fact, she feels the only time she has struggled was when she was trying to do too much.

During her sophomore year, she tried competing in the pentathlon and suffered assorted little injuries. She won the BIG EAST title in the high jump, but did not advance to the NCAA meet. Since then, she has turned all her focus to the high jump and the results have been outstanding.

Engelhardt has been the top high jumper during her four years at Notre Dame. She received All-American honors in the indoor high jump in 1997, becoming the first field All-American in Notre Dame women’s track and field history, after placing ninth at the NCAA Indoor Championships. She earned indoor honors again in 1999 after placing 12th at the NCAA meet. In the outdoor high jump, she was the 1998 and 1999 BIG EAST champion and placed 19th at the NCAA Outdoor championships last season. Her biggest accomplishment came as a junior when she met her life-long goal of clearing six feet, jumping a school-record six feet, 3/4 inches, becoming the first woman to clear the six-foot barrier in Notre Dame history.

Engelhardt enters this season with many goals for both herself and the team. Personally, she wants to improve on her past achievements. She is especially looking to add some height to her personal-best jump recorded last year at the 1999 Mt. SAC Invitational.

“I am three inches off of the Olympic Trials right now. It is definitely attainable and something that I am shooting for this year.”

With all of her past success, Engelhardt does feel a certain amount of pressure to do well this year and live up to her own high expectations.

“I feel pressure, but I use it in a positive way. It reminds me of how far I have come and what’s expected of me. I put a lot of pressure on myself and have a lot of goals and expectations for myself. The road to reaching those goals can sometimes be frustrating.”

However, as a co-captain for this year’s team, along with Patty Rice, Engelhardt’s goals for the team take precedence over her own personal pursuits.

I am a representation of the team and the University both on and off campus,” Engelhardt states. I feel like I am a role model and I hope I am someone the team can come to if they have any questions or to ease the younger athletes’ transition into college athletics.”

Her main goal for the team this year is to win the BIG EAST championship, which she views as a very attainable achievement. Along the way, however, she hopes that everybody can come together as a team, especially with all the freshmen and new faces on this year’s roster. As a captain, Engelhardt will have to play a big role in this process if it is to happen, but she views the position as an honor.

Away from the track, Engelhardt has always been a good student and has made a smooth transition to her role as a college student-athlete. She is enrolled in the College of Science majoring in science and education. Now she is looking to help the younger athletes on the team in their transition to becoming successful in the classroom, as well as on the track.

“I have been endowed with good time management skills which helped me juggle all my activities successfully. Looking back, the progress I have made since my freshman year spiritually, athletically, and academically is one of my biggest accomplishments and I hope I can share my knowledge with the rest of the team.”

Engelhardt knows the bar will be set high this season. However, she is out to prove that no bar is too high for her or her Notre Dame teammates.