Newport Harbor's high jumpers aren't flying solo these days. Not Tina Bowman. Not Misty May. And certainly not Michaela Ross. Good thing, too, because they might not have soared as high this season without each other.
Bowman, May and Ross are three distinct personalities, three unique athletes, according to Newport Harbor track and field Coach Eric Tweit. Their strengths are as varied as their weaknesses, and that's good.
This season, they have comforted, coached and cajoled each other while competing in one of the sport's most difficult and unpredictable events.
It's not possible to say that Bowman, May and Ross are the three best girls' high jumpers in the Southern Section, but it's safe to say that no other school has as many good jumpers as Newport Harbor.
After all, the Sailors couldn't have won the section Division II team championship without their high jumpers.
What's more, Bowman, May and Ross will make up one third of the field at the Masters meet Friday at Cerritos College. The top five finishers there will advance to the State meet, June 4-5 at Cerritos.
"It's a once in a lifetime thing," Tweit said. "They are three very special athletes. The coaches haven't really done much. We've just kind of harnessed three very good athletes."
Bowman, a sophomore, is the best of the three, having jumped a section-leading 5 feet 9 1/4 inches this season. As a freshman, she was fifth in the State meet, won the Masters meet championship and was second in the section Division II.
May, a sophomore, has a best of 5-6, and appears fully recovered from the back ailments that cut her season short last season.
Ross, a senior, also has a best of 5-6, and admits she might not be jumping as well if not for the other two.
"Those two came along and really encouraged me," Ross said. "When I was alone, I didn't have any excitement. I dreaded going to meets. I was always alone."
"They're always so happy," she said. "Their stamina encourages me. They know they're good. They have such confidence. . . . I like to brag about them."
Clearly, there is strength in numbers. If one doesn't win, another usually does. If one's technique or confidence collapses, the other two are there to help bring it all back together again.
At the Division II finals Saturday, Bowman, May and Ross each cleared 5-6 to lock up berths in the Masters meet. But before May and Ross could finish their celebratory hugs, Bowman made a startling announcement to the official.
"The Newport trio will pass 5-7 and go to 5-8," she said.
No one cleared 5-8, although May came as close as any of the three.
"If I concentrate on technique and not let anything bother me, I'll be fine," May said. "A couple of meets ago, I'd look at the bar and if I couldn't clear it the first time, my body would say, 'I can't do it.' "
But clearing 5-6 on her second attempt and going aggressively after 5-8 helped May's confidence Saturday.
"It (5-8) looks really high for the first time, but it's not so high now," she said.
Increased competition also has pushed May.
"I've never had to really jump against anyone," she said. "The people in our league jumped 4-10. Nobody's been able to push me before. We all push each other since there are three of us."
Since clearing 5-9 1/4 at the Mt. San Antonio College Relays in April, Bowman has emerged as the one to beat in the section.
"My goal is 5-10," Bowman said. "I'm not going for first place. I want a PR (personal record). You can't be upset with a PR, even if you get last place."
Last season, Bowman was on her own through the section finals, Masters and State meets, but now finds having her friends around calms her nerves.
"You can't really talk to your coach because he's up in the stands," she said. "But you can talk to your teammates. You have them for support. It makes it a lot easier."
Easier for all three of them, as it turns out.