By PATRICK SLACK
He spent two weeks this spring on the Little Falls national champion economics team and considers his ability to make adjustments among his greatest strengths.
But it wasn’t hard for anybody to count the number of competitors ahead of him in the Section 8AA high jump: none.
Spillum tied for the top height cleared in the event at 6-feet, 3-inches, guaranteeing the senior’s high school career would conclude among the best of the best at the state track and field meet.
Waiting out the weather
Like all area athletes, Spillum and the Flyers had to wait out an extended winter before competing, or even practicing, outdoors for the first time.
“It was really frustrating being stuck inside,” Spillum said. “We had the community service building available to us, but that is only so big.”
It didn’t take long for Spillum and fellow Little Falls senior standout high jumpers Isaiah Korver and Robert Reller to find their stride, though, as the trio took turns leading the Flyers in the event.
“It was amazing how fast they accelerated without the long season, to hit the marks they hit,” Little Falls boys head coach Jeff Massmann said. “We were always hoping the weather wouldn’t louse things up too much technique wise. When you can’t do your approaches and things like that, it can really play into problems for field-event people.”
Spillum’s versatility in the field was on full display at the Granite Ridge Conference meet just two weeks into the outdoor season, helping lead Little Falls to a second-consecutive runaway championship.
He recorded 21 of the Flyers’ 169 team points individually, taking fourth place in the triple jump (39-feet, 0.75-inches), second in the high jump (6-feet, 2-inches) and winning the long jump (19-feet, 2.5-inches).
“I like doing multiple events on the same day, even at the same time isn’t bad,” Spillum said. “If I go and have a good long jump, it can pump me up to go and pop a big high jump. So both of them kind of compliment each other and get me loose for the other one and gets me ready for both.”
“Especially for athletes that are used to competing in multiple things, it’s almost harder by the time you get down to section and state if you are only competing in one event, you don’t know what that lull is like and that makes it a lot more difficult,” Massmann said.
Jumping into state
Shortly after the conference meet, Spillum and a group of students traveled to New York City to compete in the National Economic Challenge, leaving him little time to practice track heading into the Section 8AA meet.
“I wasn’t really going in as a favorite not practicing for so long,” Spillum said. “Really, I was just looking to P.R. (personal record) and do as well as I could.”
“Definitely in the high jump, I was pretty surprised I was able to P.R.,” he said. “Everything just felt on that day.”
Spillum added that he didn’t think a trip to state would have been possible without his high jump teammates, with the group pushing each other daily to improve.
“Probably not, if I didn’t have those guys helping me out at practices,” Spillum said. “You do have jumping coaches, but they’re at other events. Our high jumping group helps each other, making sure each of us is doing what we are supposed to do, making sure that we are each helping each other by competing within our own team.”
“The goal was there but we knew anything could happen, that’s for sure,” Massmann said. “There’s no such thing as a sure thing in the field events. In running events sometimes, if you are a half minute better than someone in the mile, you are probably going to beat them on a bad day. But we’ve seen high jumpers six inches better than the next jumper falter and struggle.”
“You’ll see incredibly good jumpers all over the board even at the world class level,” he said. “We’ve seen that throughout the season and that can happen anywhere.”
At the state meet, Spillum closed his Little Falls career by finishing 20th in Class AA in an environment even more intense than at sections, he said.
“The state meet was a cool experience, with all of the great athletes from Minnesota,” Spillum said. “Competing wise it was a lot more nerve-wracking with everybody watching you. You know there’s going to be a lot of good jumpers there, a lot better than what you’re used to. It’s really neat.”
“Going down to the state track meet, for all of the kids you hope it is a quality experience,” Massmann said. “We don’t let success hinge on their performance. It’s about, did they have a good experience watching the other events and talking to some of the other top competitors in the state.”
Natural talent for leaping
At the beginning of middle school track, Spillum’s coaches had him try every event, “Like all the other kid do,” he said. “I just happened to be a little bit better at high jump than anything else.”
Spillum added the triple jump his freshman year and then eventually the long jump, even being used occasionally on the track in the 400.
But his premier event has remained the high jump.
“Coach (Nick) Czech probably said it best: he’s a smart kid and a good student. One thing about Travis, he figures things out fast. When you have to make adjustments, that’s probably his greatest strength. He’s a good thinker,” Massmann said.
“As you go to high jump events across the Central Minnesota area, some places run a really tight ship,” he said. “In other places, the mat keeps sliding and pretty soon the steps you figured out at the start of the meet mean nothing because the pit is sitting three feet farther back than what it was. So the kids who can make those adjustments are the ones who come out on top.”
That ability to make adjustments on the fly, coupled with a great spring in his step and a natural jumping ability, led to Spillum’s high school success, Massmann said.
“Any coach that would look at him and just see him work out one time would see that he has the skills that make him a high performer,” Massmann said. “He’s got a pretty wide range. Travis runs cross country, he can do long distances, he can do middle distances. We even tapped into his quarter mile ability.”
“Travis comes from a good high jump background,” he said. “There’s some high jump history in his family as well so he receives a lot of encouragement that way.”
Spillum plans on continuing his track and field career next year at St. John’s University and Massmann believes he’s only going to get better.
“He’s going to fill out and has the ability to do some decathlon work,” he said. “I think the years ahead are going to be his best yet, there’s no doubt about it.”
Granite Ridge Conference Championship
Long jump: first; 19-feet, 2.5-inches.
High jump: second; 6-feet, 2-inches.
Triple jump: fourth; 39-feet, 0.75-inches.
Section 8AA meet
High jump: second; 6-feet, 3-inches.
Long jump: eighth; 19-feet, 10.25-inches.
Class AA state meet
High jump: 20th; 5-feet, 10-inches.