SEATTLE – Heading to a fourth NCAA West Preliminary Championships, and ranking in the top-five best high jumpers in Washington history, senior A.J. Maricich has the confidence and experience to know he can compete with the nation’s best. But that was something he had to work for.
“I came in freshman year and I saw guys like (Arizona’s) Nick Ross that I was intimidated to jump against, or embarrassed going out at 6-7 and they’re still jumping at 7-5” recalls Maricich.
The Pac-12 conference can be a humbling experience for even the best high school athletes. Maricich came to Washington as a two-time 4A state high jump champ, having cleared an even seven-feet twice in his prep career. He had perfected his technique for six years since he took up the high jump as a seventh grader mostly as conditioning for basketball, until it became his main sport in high school at Mead in Spokane.
“I never much liked endurance work, so just having an event where you take ten steps and you put everything you have into it, and you have a bar right there to measure your improvements,” was the appeal of the high jump for Maricich. “You have your teammates watching and cheering you on, but if you don’t go out and perform it’s on you, it’s not on anyone else, so that’s what draws me to it is holding yourself responsible for the outcome of each meet.”
The jump that got me to nationals will be one I always remember. The best moments are when it’s all on the line and I have to clear it to achieve what I want to achieve.
His first season as a Husky was solid but that lack of confidence hurt him in some of the bigger meets, though he tied for fifth at the MPSF meet indoors. His sophomore season of 2012, Maricich returned stronger and more determined, and at the Trojan Invitational at USC, he cleared 7-0 ¼ to top the seven-foot barrier for the first time since high school, and he felt his confidence come surging back.
“I had forgotten what it felt like to win, so when I got a taste of that my season got momentum and went on from there,” he says. “I got a lot more confident, and I knew that I could go out and compete against those guys.” He went on to win the Dual Meet against Washington State for the first time, then he took second at the Pac-12 Championships with a best of 7-1 ½. Next he set a new lifetime best with a clearance of 7-2 ½ at West Prelims in Austin to make his first NCAA finals.
“The jump that got me to nationals will be one I always remember,” he says. “The best moments are when it’s all on the line and I have to clear it to achieve what I want to achieve. Early on in my career that was the jump that sticks out.”
Maricich has responded to the pressure in many more big moments over the past two seasons. Just this month at the Dual Meet against the Cougars, he was facing a final attempt at 7-0 ¼, needing a clearance to win the meet for a third year in a row. Maricich capitalized on the pressure and adrenaline, and made the bar with family and friends looking on. Washington’s two recent trips to Pullman, once for the Dual and again for Pac-12s, afforded Maricich some extra support.
“That was awesome. My parents, my sisters and girlfriend were all there, my old high school high jumps coach and then Baylee’s dad my high school coach [the Mead High School track coach is John Mires, father of current Husky Baylee Mires] came over, so it was nice to see them and they got to watch me jump. It was really nice to come back to where it all started. It helped a lot in the Dual just having that support, going into what was supposed to be a hostile environment, but having a bigger crowd to support you.”
The crowd support just amplified the natural adrenaline boost that comes with the make-or-go-home proposition of third attempts in the high jump. Maricich has come through repeatedly on third tries in his career, though sometimes he wishes he wasn’t in that situation to begin with.
“Honestly, sometimes when I’m jumping at bars I know I can make, I’ll just expect to get it on the first two attempts, and might not try as hard as I should, and that has kind of come back to bite me a little bit in recent competitions,” he says with a sheepish laugh. “The third attempt I think, ‘Okay, I’m not going home with that mark, I have to get this bar.’ The pressure definitely gets your adrenaline going. It’s a good feeling, but if you miss of course it’s terrible!”
A “people person” by his own admission, Maricich has been the guy for the Huskies in the high jump for the past four years, with much smaller training groups than most of the other events. That led him to branch out and connect with many of his teammates, the pole vaulters and horizontal jumpers who share time with assistant coach Pat Licari, but also the distance runners who make a living out of the endurance training that Maricich wanted to shy away from.
“Freshman year I just had three girls that I was practicing with,” he says. “I’ve been lucky to have Chase (Walker) and Joe (Knight) this year to train with, and then the multi guys Carson (Murray) and Cole (Jensen) a little bit. But I really like getting around and talking to everybody. It gets dull just talking about high jump. Like talking with the distance runners, when they complain about the 10k it puts it in perspective, like oh yeah, high jump’s fun, it’s not that bad!
This season, Maricich busted out a big PR indoors, clearing 7-2 ¼ that left him just a couple spots short of making the NCAA Indoor Championships for the first time. Coming off the win at the Dual Meet and a fourth-place finish at the Pac-12 Championships, might there be another PR left for Maricich?
“Coming off a good indoor season, I was kind of banged up a little bit, and it took me a while to get back into my groove. But it’s all starting to come together again,” he says. “I know I have a big jump in me still.”
After hopefully advancing to another NCAA Championships, Maricich is considering going into training to become a firefighter. A Geography major, he is a USTFCCCA All-Academic winner and two-time Pac-12 All-Academic honorable mention, and getting his academics squared away early has been a big part of his athletic success. “Just being able to go out on the track, come meet time, and not have to worry about anything. You’re going to be really successful if you get good grades. For me, track’s ending this year, it doesn’t go on forever, so you have to get your education and utilize all the resources UW offers.”
Off to another NCAA prelims, the senior will most importantly be fully confident, knowing he has done this before. A second bid to the NCAA Outdoor finals would be a perfect close to an excellent career.“I don’t think there’s anything I need to change, although I need to get some bars on first attempt,” he says. “Pat’s got my back, he’s a great coach, and he’ll tell me what I need to do to get through. I’m confident in my jump.”