State record-holder Anna Keefer, right, with mother (and jump coach) Tiffini.
It’s not quite the happy accident that resulted in chocolate chip cookies, but St. Michael-Albertville senior Anna Keefer has discovered a recipe for success that already has yielded a state record.
Keefer, one of the state’s top female track and field athletes, had been flirting with the elusive 20-foot barrier in the girls’ long jump for more than a year. Reaching 20 feet, which no high school girl in Minnesota had ever accomplished, had become her grail.
“Last summer I jumped 19-10½, so I knew I was capable,” said Keefer, referring to a jump from a summer AAU meet. “At the start of this season, I went 19-8 in the first indoor meet, so I knew I was close.”
But those extra couple of inches were not materializing. It seemed, at times, that she was going backward.
“Then we went outside and we had cooler [temperatures], and I was going low 19s, high 18s. I was like ‘Shoot, I’ve still got a foot to go.’ I was getting nervous. There was a lot of pressure.”
Jumping 20 feet wasn’t some quixotic quest Keefer had little chance at achieving. She believed she could do it, and she certainly has the pedigree. Her mother, Tiffini, who doubles as her jump coach, still owns the women’s long jump record at South Dakota State at 20 feet, 5 inches. Her father, Tim, played football at Augustana.
“I’d say my success is about 50-50, genetics and hard work,” said Keefer, who also owns 2017 state-best times in the 100 and 200 meters.
“We’ve been shooting for 20 feet. That’s been the goal all season,” Tiffini said. “We knew she had it in her, but she was having problems with scratching. We tried a lot of things. I moved her approach back from 60 feet to 90 feet.”
On the weekend of May 5 and 6, St. Michael-Albertville traveled to compete in the prestigious Howard Wood Dakota Relays in Sioux Falls, S.D. Keefer was her usual dominant self, winning the 100 and the long jump and taking third in the triple jump.
Two days after the long bus trip back from Sioux Falls, the Knights were on another bus, this time to Brainerd for the Class 3A, Section 8 True Team meet.
“I was fatigued. This was the True Team meet, so I just wanted to get 18 or 19 feet and stick with that,” Keefer said. “I wasn’t thinking about 20 feet.”
On her final jump of the meet, Keefer — relaxed and carefree — flew down the approach and hit the takeoff board just right.
Tiffini generally watches every jump of Anna’s carefully, scrutinizing her technique. She’s not being overbearing, just giving Anna the instruction she wished she had received at Rice Lake (Wis.) High School in the early 1990s.
“I never had a jump coach. My best in high school was 17-8 because I never got any real coaching. My coaching was my dad holding up a rake and saying ‘Jump over this,’ ” Tiffini said with a laugh. “Anna is so special. I’m always amazed that she can jump so far.”
For the last try in Brainerd, however, Tiffini turned away an instant before Anna jumped. She turned back in time to see her daughter descending, feet out in front at a 90-degree angle, before landing in the pit.
“I could tell right away it was a really good jump,” Tiffini said.
She heard a voice from the pit.
She shook her head. That couldn’t be right. She listened more carefully.
“Twenty feet, one and one-quarter inch,” the voice said.
“When I first heard 21, I knew it wasn’t that good. Then I heard 20, one. They sound so close together,” Tiffini said.
It took a second, then it set in. Anna had just sailed further than any girl in Minnesota high school track and field history.
“It was kind of surreal,” Anna said. “I just went out and focused on my technique and didn’t get tensed up. It’s a lot of weight off my shoulders. It feels really good.”
Barring injury, Keefer is expected to improve in the long jump, perhaps even break her mother’s record when she gets to the University of North Carolina, from which she has received a full scholarship for track and field.
Still, the memory of one amazing, unexpected jump will always be special.
“It’s kind of cool,” Keefer said. “I’ve gotten a lot of attention for it, more than usual. It’s a bigger deal than I expected.”