By Sean Collins
Recruiting in collegiate track and field is very different from basketball and football. It isn’t subjective like basketball and football; scoring 20 points against bad teams doesn’t impress people. Or, only scoring one touchdown and rushing for 100 yards against a really good team can be considered highly impressive. In track and field, a person’s mark speaks for itself. Either you can run fast or you can’t, either you can jump far or you can’t. Often times, all it takes is one great race, one big jump or one exceptional throw to get noticed. For freshman Aleah Hurst, it took some time but she had that big jump and it changed everything.
Hurst hails from Sugarland, Texas where she attended Austin High School. Her senior season had started and the recruiting attention had left a lot to be desired.
“Nobody was looking at me,” Hurst said. “I put it in a couple questionnaires to other universities but I had never even thought about Arizona.”
Hurst dealt with a lot of negative energy throughout her senior year. But she managed to stay focused and keep her eyes on the ultimate goal she set for herself, regardless of what people were saying.
“It was me and my best friend,” Hurst said. “We did gymnastics together and then went in to track together and she was really good at the triple and long jump. Coaches would always talk to her and never talk to me. I was always down and frustrated. One time, at an indoor meet I (long) jumped around 16 feet, which is really bad for me. A coach that knew us came up and talked to us, he said good job to my friend and then asked me what my goal was for the season and I said 20 feet. He said to me, ‘I would go with a more realistic goal, like in the 18s.’”
Having somebody tell you your goal isn’t realistic is certainly not an easy thing to deal with but it motivated Hurst more than anything and made her more determined to prove everybody wrong.
“I jumped 19-10.75 (6.06m) at Texas Relays and that was super exciting,” Hurst said. “Coaches were there and they came up to me and spoke with me. Coach (Sheldon) Blockburger was there but I’m not sure if he came up to me. But my coach at the time went to school with Coach Blockburger at LSU and he talked to him and told him about me. After that, (Blockburger) contacted my parents.”
It took some convincing by her parents to get her to visit Tucson. Since it was so late in the season, she did not go through the typical process that recruits endure while on visits but nevertheless, she certainly enjoyed Tucson.
“I told my parents, ‘I really don’t want to go, but okay,’” Hurst said. “So I came here and it was really late in the season, I didn’t have a host. Coach Blockburger was my host, and I met a few people on the team. They came to visit me at the El Conquistador and we played volleyball in the pool and they were cool. I remember we had Olive Garden and that was good, I didn’t expect that. The girls were nice and everything, I really liked it. The hotel was on the mountain and it was so pretty and different from Texas.”
Hurst was looking for a change of scenery, a place that’s far but not too far, and while on her visit she began to really consider Arizona.
“They showed me the weight room in McKale Center,” Hurst said. “I was just in love. The track was cool, too. I saw the obstacle course we have on the side and I thought that would be fun.”
Often times, the tipping point is one of the little things, something that people on the outside may not think of as being a big deal.
“The (long jump) pits, it probably wasn’t what sold me but it was definitely a helping factor,” Hurst said. “The pits at my high school were terrible. (Blockburger) told me to feel the sand and I was like, ‘Oh, hey, I would definitely like jumping in this.’”
After the visit, Blockburger showed just the right amount of attention. He didn’t call too much to where it was overbearing but he did not ignore her either.
“He called me,” Hurst said. “But, he didn’t call me as often as the other schools did. He would call my dad to stay in touch but Texas State called me so much and it was good that he didn’t do that because I would just get annoyed. I just wanted them to let me make this decision.”
Hurst ended up choosing Arizona in late April and upon calling Blockburger to tell him the good news, she didn’t exactly get the reaction she was expecting.
“I called him and said, ‘I just wanted to let you know that I committed to the University of Arizona,’” Hurst said. “All he said was, ‘Okay, well that sounds good, I’m excited.’ (Laughing) I was freaking out but I think he was at a meet or on his way to a meet so he was busy and that made me feel better. But I was thinking, ‘Am I not wanted anymore?’ It was funny.”
Later that summer, Hurst competed at the USA Track and Field Junior Championships and Blockburger and senior Nick Ross were in attendance to cheer her on and show their support. It was something Hurst really appreciated.
“Everything was bad, it was raining, my stomach hurt,” Hurst said. “But my coach was right there, I still needed to compete. I didn’t make it to finals and I was so mad and embarrassed because I thought (Blockburger) wouldn’t want me anymore and he would regret his decision. But, after I jumped I went over to see my family and Nick and Sheldon were sitting with them. They told me it was okay and they said we had stuff to work on but they were happy I was coming, really nice things like that.”
When Hurst got to Arizona in the fall, she instantly felt happy, a little nervous, but happy. She was worried about her strength and conditioning but she managed to go stride-for-stride with everybody else. Blockburger sent her a workout to do prior to fall training and Hurst took it very seriously.
“I came here and I felt ready,” Hurst said. “I’m really good at doing stuff on my own and my parents would get on me if I didn’t feel up to it. I got here and fall training wasn’t too bad. Amber (Passalaqua) was really my partner and my motivation.”
After two meets, she has jumped 18-1.75 (5.53m) and 18-1.5 (5.52m), the best she has ever jumped during an indoor season, but she is not satisfied. This year, Hurst has set a new goal of hitting 21 feet in the long jump. It would not be wise to tell her she can’t reach that mark; she certainly enjoys proving people wrong.