By Sean Collins
Often times, leaving home to go off to college can be very exciting and frightening at the same time. The majority of the time, students are relatively close to home when it comes to the U.S. Typically, students visit universities to see if they like the atmosphere and location before they decide to attend said school.
Freshman Lisanne Hagens, a high jumper on the women’s track and field, had never been to Tucson before. But, she crossed an ocean and chose to attend the University of Arizona anyway.
Hagens is from Zoetermeer, Netherlands and had no familiarity with the city of Tucson and she did know what the University of Arizona was like at all. She made the trek from Holland to London to Arizona, taking about 14 hours. Not only was it the first time she would be in Arizona, it was the first time she had ever traveled on her own.
“I had no idea what this place was,” Hagens said. “I had contact with (assistant coach) Sheldon Blockburger and that was all. He told me about the weather here and what it was like, but I had no idea. I don’t even remember what I did on the plane ride. I was pretty excited, the idea that I was going to America for a full year was exciting.”
In Holland, Hagens’ high school did not have athletics, so school spirit and support for the athletic teams are new for her. But, the team and family aspect at Arizona is something that Hagens has definitely enjoyed.
“I really like it,” Hagens said. “I think it’s amazing here. It’s really different because we only had clubs competing against each other in Holland. So, for instance, when I go the basketball games I’m really amazed by all the fans watching and how many people there are. I just love all the sporting events that are so big, I really like that about Arizona.”
Another shock to Hagens was how different the culture around food is in America. Something that never really crosses our minds as Americans was one of the first things Hagens noticed about her new home.
“I do have to say that I was surprised about the food in America,” Hagens said. “People really like fast food here. We do eat fast food in Holland but not like here, everywhere you drive around you see fast food restaurants. Also, the grocery stores here are much bigger. I was surprised at how big the store was and the quantities they sell are also really big. They have these big peanut butter jars; we do not have that in Holland.”
Teammates Aleah Hurst (freshman, long jumper) and Morgan Struble (sophomore, hurdler) live with Hagens and they helped her with the transition. Their off-campus residence has many advantages in Hagens’ eyes.
“I’m glad I’m not living in the dorms,” Hagens said. “I like to cook my own food and have some space. I like living with Aleah and Morgan; they are good roommates.”
Hagens will also have to adjust to the standard of success as a female high jumper. Arizona has the most outdoor women’s high jump titles in NCAA history with eight. Female high jumpers from Arizona have also claimed seven NCAA Indoor Championships. Blockburger coached former Wildcat Liz Patterson to two NCAA titles, one indoor and one outdoor. He also guided UA alumnus Brigetta Barrett to six individual titles, three indoor and three outdoor, making her the most successful female high jumper in NCAA history. The numbers were very intriguing to Hagens and she felt Blockburger could help her reach her goals.
“The achievements that Coach Sheldon (Blockburger) had with some high jumpers drew me to Arizona,” Hagens said. “Like the things he has done with Brigetta Barrett. I came here for high jump and I really want to improve my personal record. Other universities also recruited me but they didn’t really have good high jump programs. So I looked at the results and saw that Sheldon achieved pretty great things so I thought he would be a good coach for me.”
Barrett once labeled Blockburger as an “unconventional coach” and Hagens certainly echoed that statement.
“He’s different than any other coach I’ve had,” Hagens said. “He’s really funny and he’s really creative. He always finds different ways to help you get better. I’m sometimes really surprised at what he makes us do, like one day we played hockey. But I think he’s a really good coach.”
Hagens is also adjusting to the way that Blockburger wants her to jump. The European style of jumping and American style of jumping are quite different technique-wise.
“When we work on my technique,” Hagens said. “I notice that he tries to make you really explosive. For instance, he wants me to come in a little lower on my takeoff. That was really different because my coach in Holland always wanted me to stay upright. It was different, not really a jump with power. So I just have to work on that.”
Although she is adjusting to a new style of jumping, Hagens has already been quite successful in her young career. She boasts a personal-best clearance of 5-10.75 (1.80m). She was the Dutch National Junior Champion in the high jump for indoor and outdoor in 2012. She earned a silver medal at Dutch National Championships in 2013 and she competed at the 2012 World Junior Championships in Barcelona.
“There’s another World Junior Championships this year,” Hagens said. “It is in America too, so that’s really interesting. I really want to go there and represent my country. That’s weird actually, because I train here and go to school here but then I would compete there for Holland. I really want to go there and the standard I need to meet this year 5-11.5 (1.82m). That’s my goal, to go there and to improve, of course. The Dutch National Junior Record is 6-1.25 (1.86m); I would love to get that. It’s pretty high but that’s something to work towards.”
The 2014 World Junior Championships in Eugene, Ore. will come after conclusion of the collegiate track and field season. Hopefully, Hagens will be able represent her country at that meet with one very successful collegiate season under her belt.