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SOUTHERN SECTION TRACK AND FIELD CHAMPIONSHIPS : Mater Dei’s Versatile McDonald Plans to Focus Her Attention on High Jump

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Never one to worry about something as bothersome as a warm-up, Melissa McDonald leaps into her track and field events headfirst. Or feet first, depending on the event.

A case in point:

On the afternoon of March 14, McDonald, a senior at Mater Dei High School, stood at the head of the triple jump runway preparing for her first competitive jump and wondering what she’d gotten herself into.

She had an unexpected day off from high jumping, thanks to an unstable, grassy run-up at Servite.

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“I took one look at that and said ‘You’re not high jumping today,’ ” Mater Dei Coach Karen Frank said.

Always curious but never able to fit the event into her busy schedule, McDonald decided that it was time to take a run at the triple jump.

But as she prepared to race down the runway, McDonald’s thoughts were not of getting the hop, skip and jump of this difficult event down correctly--something she’d never been able to master even in workouts. No, it was this: “I just hoped I didn’t make a fool of myself,” she said.

But she quickly pushed that thought out of her mind and simply ran, hopped, skipped and jumped into the sandy pit.

“It just came together,” she said. “I liked it. It seemed to flow together.”

As much as anything else, that one jump sums up McDonald’s approach to track and field: Don’t think, just do it.

More often than not, that philosophy has pushed her to new heights and distances.

Oh sure, there was the time she landed smack on the high jump bar on consecutive attempts. And the time she soared over the bar and missed the foamy mat on the other side, bruising her back on the unforgiving sod.

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But more often she has had days such as April 20 when, at the Orange County girls’ championship meet, McDonald won the high jump (5 feet 6 inches), the long jump (17-10) and was second in the triple jump (37-9 1/2). Or last Wednesday’s Angelus League championship meet, when she won the high jump (5-2), the long jump (a personal-best 18-9), the triple jump (another personal-best 38-2) and anchored the Monarchs’ winning 400-meter relay team.

In all, McDonald holds five school records--high jump (5-10) long jump (18-9), triple jump (38-2), 400 meters (58.2 seconds) and the 1,600 relay (4:05.7).

She heads into today’s Southern Section 2-A preliminaries at Gahr High School in Cerritos with the division’s top high jump mark, the third-best triple jump and the fourth-best long jump. She also will anchor the 400 relay.

But from now on, McDonald will focus on the high jump, her favorite event.

“I like the objective of getting this whole body over that bar,” she said. “It’s different from the long jump and the triple jump that way.”

Pressed for a more technical explanation, McDonald shook her head. It all goes by too quickly to break down further. She’s not sure how she does it. And as long as she doesn’t make a fool of herself, she doesn’t care how it looks.

She’s only recently become serious enough to lay down some lofty goals. This season, she went so far as to hope for a State championship and a 6-foot jump. If that seems like a normal goal for an athlete who has been to the State meet the past two years, consider McDonald’s experience as a freshman.

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“I didn’t know what CIF was my freshman year,” she said. “I didn’t know what State was. I was scared to go to CIF.”

So she didn’t. She didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. To her, track and field was a quiet pastime. No fanfare, please.

Gradually, McDonald warmed to performing in front of crowds at championship meets, although she still prefers the comfortable surroundings of Mater Dei’s track.

“I get pumped up by a big crowd,” she said. “(But) if I make a fool of myself, I’d like to be at my home track.”

Those days would seem to be gone for good. First, McDonald has become too proficient to fall on her face. Second, starting with today’s preliminaries, the meets only gain in importance. Third, college beckons.

McDonald has already taken trips to the universities of Arizona and Texas and is waiting to visit Cal Poly San Luis Obispo later this spring.

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True to form, though, McDonald isn’t sure she wants the pressure of an Arizona or Texas.

San Luis Obispo, an NCAA Division II school, might be best for McDonald, a simple, low-key place to practice her craft.

“I can’t wait to get up there and look around,” she said.

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