DENHAM SPRINGS – One week after establishing a personal best mark – a clearance of 5-11¼ that also resulted in a share of sixth place on LSU’s career outdoor list – freshman high jumper Abby O’Donoghue may have turned in arguably her finest performance of the season.
And it had nothing to do with the height O’Donoghue cleared. As of matter of fact, the former Denham Springs High All-American nearly exited the indoor competition without making the opening height.
After two misses, O’Donoghue dug deep to remain alive in the competition and was able to clear 5-4 en route to a 5-8 finish – quite a show of character for someone in the infancy stages of her college career.
“Everything just felt off,” O’Donoghue said. “It was scary. The competitive nature in me wants to do well every meet. I ended up jumping 5-8 and my senior year I would have been happy 5-8 every meet because that was a good height.
“This year I just wanted more, I expected more,” O’Donoghue said. “I wondered what my (jumps) coach (Todd Lane) was thinking and what was going to happen. He said sometimes it’s a battle, and I take pride in that. I think I battle through things.”
O’Donoghue literally raised the standard for herself on the heels of such a decorated career at Denham Springs High. She graduated a six-time state champion with a personal best of 5-9 ½ and with All-American honors after a silver medal performance in the New Balance indoor nationals.
By choosing to attend LSU, she elected to follow in the same athletic footsteps of both her parents – her father John a pitcher under legendary coach Skip Bertman and mother Kelli Flynn, a heptathlete and high jumper.
O’Donghue’s mother, also her high jump coach while at Denham Springs High, has a share of second place on LSU’s school career outdoor list with a 6-foot ½ clearance she established in 1993.
“My mom doesn’t let me forget that she’s (just over) an inch ahead of me,” O’Donoghue said with a smile. “She wants me to pass her up as much as I want to. It’s a little competitive thing we have going on. She pushes me, and I’m so appreciative of that. I can’t wait to knock her down.”
If her first season at the college level is any indication, Abby O’Donoghue appears poised to accomplish that feat sooner rather than later.
For O’Donoghue, her success is a byproduct of maintaining perspective and the willingness to continue to push herself to put all the ingredients together for that perfect series of jumps that would not only eclipse her mother’s mark, but one day top Gail Kapernick’s school-record 6-2 ¼ set 24 years ago.
“I exceeded my expectations last year and I was really proud of myself,” she said. “I thought I should set goals next year that scare me. Getting consistent at six feet seems difficult right now, but it would be worth it if I get it.
“You can have your goals that are easy to meet,” she said. “Once I met them, I wasn’t satisfied any more. Goals that scare me are the ones I’m looking forward to. I feel like if I can get it all to click, I can perform much better.”
O’Donoghue said her focus on the more technical aspects Lane emphasized started to show up more during the later stages of the outdoor season, especially down the stretch heading into the Southeastern Conference meet.
All of the things O’Donoghue first began practicing as a sixth-grader were becoming more refined from a strong push out, fluid run, remaining straight up and down and finally a good plant and knee drive.
“It feels good to have the really good technique,” she said.
Her first college meet – an indoor invitational at Texas Tech – wasn’t memorable for O’Donoghue because of her 5-7 clearance, something she did with regularity in high school.
That mark, though, earned O’Donoghue, who battled a serious case of nerves, second place against a group of competitors she looked eye-to-eye with instead of casting a daunting shadow like she did with her 5-10 frame in high school.
“It’s so much more different compared to high school. “Some people were good in high school where everyone in college is good,” she said. “I just didn’t know what to expect. My heart was pumping.”
The culmination of the indoor season brought about an eighth-place finish in the SEC meet at Texas A&M but O’Donoghue didn’t allow that to carry over to the outdoor portion of the schedule.
O’Donoghue won her first two meets of the season, claiming the Louisiana Classics March 17 with a 5-9 ¾ clearance. She delivered a resounding encore a week later at the Pac 12/Big 10 Invitational with her PR of 5-11 ¼ or 1.81 meters which stood as the team’s best mark until Kaitlyn Walker equaled that clearance at the LSU Invitational.
O’Donoghue had two more first-place showings at the Battle on the Bayou meet with a 5-10 ¼ jump – an identical height that enabled her to win LSU’s Alumni Gold meet in April.
In between there was a three-meet stretch where O’Donoghue didn’t exceed 5-8 ¾ and placed anywhere between third to seventh.
With the SEC outdoor meet on the horizon and her nerves starting to rage, O’Donoghue turned in the direction she has countless times in her career for a reassuring voice.
“I had to call my mom,” she said. “She told me to calm down and remember I was good enough to be there. It worked. I was confident.”
O’Donoghue delivered, claiming the SEC runners-up finish with a 5-10 ¾ mark that sent her to the NCAA East Regional preliminaries on the highest of highs.
While Walker advanced to the NCAA Championships with a regional championship O’Donoghue had to deal with the harsh realization of not winning her final meet of the season.
O’Donoghue’s 13th-place finish (5-8 ¾) was just on the cusp of a bid to the national championships where the top 12 finishers qualified – a result that’s set the stage for next season.
“I was right there and competing against great girls,” she said. “I thought I had it on first and last attempt. It’s something to learn from. My dad said this has to push me to do better. I know who I am and what I can do to succeed. Losing and failing at meets will help me for the future.”