By Michael Muldoon
---- — t was a moment she’d dreamed of for years, but when she finally accomplished it, there was no wild celebration.
Moira Cronin didn’t even realize what she had done.
The University of Virginia sophomore from Andover has the perfect excuse, though.
“It was a blonde moment,” she said with a laugh.
A blonde moment and a fond (to say the least) moment. Last Friday she high jumped 6-feet to win the event at the Virginia Challenge.
The 6-foot high jump is a magical barrier for a female high jumper similar to a man running a 4-minute mile. Only 18 collegians have done 6-feet this year while 20 college men have run sub-4 minutes or the metric equivalent.
Don’t blame her or her hair color for being in the dark on that historic day.
“Nobody in college can convert meters to feet. It’s like jumping blindly,” she said.
But her coach, Bryan Fetzer, knew that 1.83 meters means 6-feet. “He also knows what 6-feet means.
“That’s an elite field. That’s the standard,” he said. “She’s definitely a national level athlete.”
The 6-foot jump didn’t come easily. Cronin said she had come up short the previous 19 times she had attempted it dating back to high school.
“I finally did it,” said Cronin, who is believed to be the first 6-foot jumper ever from our area. “I don’t want to be bragging, but I’m really excited. It’s everything I dreamed of.”
Cronin, who is 5-11.75, was particularly proud that she jumped her height. It almost seemed she could have cleared Kevin Garnett.
“Looking at the film, she had a good three inches (over the bar),” said Fetzer.
For someone so accomplished in her chosen (track and) field, Cronin suffers from a strange malady.
“I’m actually afraid of heights,” admitted Cronin, the fourth UVA woman ever to high jump 6-0. “Basically I conquered the fear of it. It’s silly and embarrassing.”
Conquering that fear is just one part of the psychological journey she’s traveled to qualify for next weeks NCAA Eastern Regionals in Greensboro, N.C.
In high school, she went from just another promising young jumper to the New Balance Nationals champion with an area record 5-10.
When she improved by six inches in mere months her sophomore year, it was all so easy, so natural.
See the bar, clear the bar.
Her senior year she slumped badly only to pull out of it a few weeks later. That may have been good training for her freshman year in Charlottesville.
Instead of going higher and higher, she was getting eliminated at pedestrian heights.
“I did 5-7 twice,” said Cronin, whose first name is pronounced Maura. “It was very frustrating doing only 5-4 and 5-5. My hips would be over by several inches but I’d come down on it on my butt. The high jump is very technical. I really struggled to communicate with my old coach.”
He left in January of her freshman year and Fetzer, who has a strong background coaching the high jump, was hired from Harvard.
“Basically it was three coaches in three years,” said Fetzer. “That’s never a fun thing.”
With his demanding coaching style, Fetzer could have been a godsend or her worst nightmare. Cronin has embraced his intensity and turned her career around.
“It’s been for the best,” said Cronin, an anthropology major who chose UVA over Wake Forest and Stanford. “I loved the old coach (Jason Vigilante) but this is a much better fit. I didn’t give any thought of transferring, I love Virginia. Coaches come and go. Coach Fetzer is a hard ass. He set the tone. Track was more laid back. It got a lot more intense. He blows whistles. He has a football background.”
That background manifests itself in the grueling workouts. The 6:30 wake-up calls for early morning practice can be drudgery, but it’s hard to argue with the results.
“It was a huge transition,” she explained. “I didn’t really lift in high school. I had gotten a little chubby. Now I’m in the best shape of my life.”
Working with Virginia’s sports psychologist, Dr. Jim Bowman, has also proved beneficial.
“He’s unbelievable,” she said. “You go once a week. I was so negative last year. Now I’m positive. I was a role model in high school. I’m back to my high school ways.”
Back where it matters most. Clearing the bar.
While the indoor season wasn’t spectacular, she was headed in the right direction. She cleared 5-8.75 one meet then three weeks ago she jumped a career-best 5-11.25. Finally, she had topped her high school heroics.
Her coach says there is more to come.
“Absolutely,” he said. “If she just stays relaxed, she’ll have the opportunity to have a lot of success in the next couple of weeks (Regionals and NCAAs). She’s a great young lady and she’s growing in confidence in her craft.”
Follow Michael Muldoon on Twitter under the screen name @MullyET.