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USF's Baxter has some high ideals

Not only does he want to jump higher than anyone, he wants to bring his team together in victory.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 10, 2001


TAMPA -- He was leaping and grabbing a basketball rim just for kicks when a middle school coach first noticed his exceptional jumping ability.

Five years later, Jimmy Baxter still is leaping. And people still are taking notice.

This weekend, on his home track, Baxter will be in the spotlight, but there is more at stake than a desire to impress a few middle school coaches.

The freshman, a former Boca Ciega High standout, will compete for his first conference high jump title in the Conference USA Track and Field Championships, scheduled today through Saturday on the South Florida campus.

Baxter enters ranked No. 1 in the event.

"I think he's potentially an Olympic high jumper, no question about it," USF assistant coach Don Marsh said. "He's strong enough, fast enough, competitive. It just depends on what Jimmy wants to do."

The 6-foot-5, 185-pound St. Petersburg native owns the best high jump in the conference this season, 7 feet, 33/4 inches, and has qualified for the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore. He has the sixth-best jump in the nation (Charles Clinger of Weber State is No. 1 at 7-51/2) and is one of two freshmen listed among the top 20 high-jumpers nationally.

"Obviously, my goal this weekend is to win the high jump," said Baxter, 20. "But more than that, it's to bring my team together. We've got two seniors, Jan-Erik Salo and Rory Marsh, that I want to see go out on top. We're only 15 strong right now, so every time we have a meet, we need to stay together. I tell them I know I just got here, but when I come out here, every track meet I leave everything I've got on the track. And that's what I expect out of them. I've got high expectations every time I step on that pit."

For the past four weeks, Baxter has been pulling double duty, trying to balance his obligations as a reserve guard/forward on the basketball team with his desire to compete in track. It's a struggle that's worth it, he said.

"Most definitely, one helps the other," Baxter said. "I got kind of frustrated (recently) when I had to go from basketball to track practice ... because I think going between both was stressful on my legs. But I've been out of basketball for three weeks and I feel very good. I feel like right now the only thing that can stop me is me."

It's that competitive nature that propelled the former high school state-record holder to new heights this season while competing against a high school nemesis.

Baxter and Florida jumper Joe Squiterri first met as seniors in high school. Squiterri (Naples High) defeated Baxter in their first meeting, but Baxter won every other meet his senior year and set the state record (7-2).

When they met again at Florida this season, it was like old times.

"When I saw him this year, I got kind of pumped and I know he did too," Baxter said. "He jumped over 7-1 with no problem and I hit the bar both times. I was down to my last jump and Coach Marsh said, 'You can do this, I know you can do this, what's wrong with you? You're acting like you're scared to jump.'

"I hadn't jumped 7-1/2 all year. I went up and did it on my last try. It was his turn to jump 7-33/4 -- he ran up and hit the bar. Then it was my turn. I hit it (7-33/4) on my first try and everybody went crazy, even his fans. He couldn't make it. He made the provisionals and I made the qualifying mark."

In a sport where the individual is often more important than the team, Marsh said Baxter is a welcome change. During basketball season, he often would come out to the track, even though he wasn't practicing, to talk with team members and offer encouragement. Marsh said Baxter has formed a special bond with teammate Stephan Ketterl, a walk-on from Estero who is among the conference's top high-jumpers.

As for his talent, Marsh said Baxter is touching the surface of his potential.

"He just has a gift in the high jump," Marsh said. "That's pretty obvious. Coming out of high school, he was a great jumper, but basically he just jumped. We spent a little time and effort trying to refine his run, his approach, things like that. In high school, he kind of just lined up and jumped. That's okay in high school, but at the collegiate level, everybody is good so he needed some refinement on his approach and his run up to the bar. He has picked up very well."

C-USA Men's/Women's Track Championships

WHEN: Today-Saturday.

WHERE: University of South Florida track.

ADMISSION: Free all days for USF students; free to others today; $6 per day Friday and Saturday or $10 for both days.

AT STAKE: Conference championships and a chance to earn qualifying marks for the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore.

ATHLETES TO WATCH: USF -- Kerine Black, ranked No. 1 in the triple jump, long jump, 100 and 200 meters; Jimmy Baxter and Stephan Keterrl, high jump; Jolene Williams, 10K; Jan-Erik Salo, steeplechase; Rita Arndt, steeplechase; Dyanna Octavian, discus. Houston -- Rhian Clarke, pole vault; Charlotte -- Will Montgomery, long, triple jump.

NEW: For the first time, the women's 3,000 steeplechase will be run.

OF NOTE: South Florida has geared up for the event by replacing everything from flags and hurdles to resurfacing its track. With no rain expected, the USF coaches said they expect a top-notch event. "This track has a history of being really fast, and the top three or four athletes in the conference are among the best in the nation," USF assistant coach Greg Thiel said. Black, a senior from Fort Pierce, will be trying to win four events, which Thiel said won't be easy. "It's tough to do because they are all explosive events," he said. THEY SAID IT: "It should be a really great competition. Houston, Tulane and Marquette are all very good teams. It should be a great competition for any of the spectators, that's for sure." -- USF track coach Kelly Phillips.

Today

FIELD EVENTS: 9 a.m. -- decathlon and heptathlon; 3 p.m. -- hammer throw (women); 5:30 p.m. -- hammer throw (men).

RUNNING EVENTS: 8:30 p.m. -- 10,000 meters (women); 9:15 p.m. -- 10,000 meters (men).

Friday

FIELD EVENTS: 9 a.m. -- decathlon and heptathlon; 2 p.m. -- javelin (women); 3 p.m. -- shot put (men); 4 p.m. -- long jump (women); 6 p.m. -- long jump (men), discus (women), high jump (women) and long jump (women).

RUNNING EVENTS: 6:30 p.m. -- 1,500-meter trials (women); 6:45 p.m. -- 1,500-meter trials (men); 7 p.m. -- 100-meter hurdle trials (women); 7:15 p.m. -- 110-meter hurdle trials (men); 7:30 p.m. -- 400-meter trials (women); 7:40 p.m. -- 400-meter trials (men); 7:50 p.m. -- 100-meter trials (women); 8 p.m. -- 100-meter trials (men); 8:10 p.m. -- 800-meter trials (women); 8:25 p.m. -- 800-meter trials (men); 8:40 p.m. -- 400-meter hurdle trials (women); 8:50 p.m. -- 400-meter hurdle trials (men); 9 p.m. -- 200-meter trials (women); 9:10 p.m. -- 200-meter trials (men); 9:20 p.m. -- 3,000-meter steeplechase (women); 9:35 p.m. -- 3,000-meter steeplechase (men).

Saturday

FIELD EVENTS: 2 p.m. -- javelin (men); 4 p.m. -- triple jump (women); 4 p.m. -- shot put (women); 5 p.m. -- discus (men); 6 p.m. -- high jump (men); 6 p.m. -- pole vault (men); 6 p.m. -- triple jump (men).

RUNNING EVENTS: 6 p.m. -- 4x100 relay (women); 6:10 p.m. -- 4x100 relay (men); 6:20 p.m. -- 1,500-meter finals (women); 6:30 p.m. -- 1,500-meter final (men); 6:40 p.m. -- 100-meter hurdle final (women); 6:50 p.m. -- 110-meter hurdle final (men); 7 p.m. -- 400-meter final (women); 7:05 p.m. -- 400-meter final (men); 7:10 p.m. -- 100-meter final (women); 7:15 p.m. -- 100-meter final (men); 7:20 p.m. -- 800-meter final (women); 7:25 p.m. -- 800-meter final (men); 7:35 p.m. -- 400-meter hurdle final (women); 7:40 p.m. -- 400-meter hurdle final (men); 7:45 p.m. -- 200-meter final (women); 7:50 p.m. -- 200-meter final (men); 7:55 p.m. -- 5,000-meter final (women); 8:15 p.m. -- 5,000-meter final (men); 8:35 p.m. -- 4x100 relay (women); 8:50 p.m. -- 4x100 relay (men); 9:25 p.m. -- awards ceremony. -- Compiled by Antonya English.

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