Quietly, senior Leah Larson has gone about rising to the top of the all-time indoor triple jump list for a Concordia University track and field program well established on the national front. Larson wasn’t someone making a lot of noise or bringing attention to herself on Jan. 12 when she reached a mark that may have seemed far out of her grasp just a few years ago.
Asked about the new school record a week after the accomplishment, Larson had only a few words to say. “It was awesome – and my coach was happy about it, too.” Understated and to the point. That’s Larson, and there’s really nothing wrong about it.
“It’s a great quality to have in an athlete,” said jumps coach Wayne Earney. “Because the highs aren’t too high and the lows aren’t too low. She’s very even keeled. I’m that way too. It’s nice to have an upperclassman who is that calming presence because we have a really talented group of young women that are going to challenge her record in the future. It’s nice to have a great quality young woman like her.”
In her very first meet as a freshman in 2016, Larson turned in a triple jump mark of 34’ 8 ½.” Three years later the Norfolk, Neb., native’s record measures in at roughly three-and-a-half feet longer (38’ 2 ¾”). That mark puts her at No. 3 in the nation and in a position she’s never been before. Larson broke through as a junior by making it to the national championships for both the indoor and outdoor seasons, but she’s now on a new level.
No doubt Larson had some potential coming out of Norfolk High School, where she qualified for the state championships and recorded state triple jump placements of fourth as a junior and fifth as a senior. She also helped the Panthers to a state runner up finish in basketball her senior season. Those achievements were just a start.
“I’ve been working at it my whole college career,” Larson said of her steady improvement in the triple jump. “I thought it was possible (to break the record) when Coach Earney got here. He put it in my head that I was capable of doing things that were beyond what I thought. He pushed us all to be better.”
While Earney has pushed Larson to greater heights, so too has her younger brother. It turns out Leah is not the only athlete in the family. Now a sophomore at the University of South Dakota, Travis Larson is a high jumper for the Coyotes. As a freshman last season, he was a fourth place finisher in the high jump at the Summit League Championships. In his high school senior basketball season, Larson aided Norfolk on its way to a state title.
Leah has had the advantage of having a brother to motivate and work alongside her during Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. Said Leah, “We’re both super supportive of each other. We talk after every meet in our family group message. We keep up with each other pretty well.”
In some ways, it’s a challenge for anyone to keep up with what Larson is doing. She’s living out the type of athletic career path that all coaches would want for their athletes. Larson is maximizing her potential in her last go-round. She knows that talented underclassmen teammates will be gunning for her record, which Earney expects to be broken yet again by Larson this season.
She may have been off the national radar in her events as a freshman and sophomore, but things have changed through her focused determination and through the faith she has put in Earney to help lead her to this point.
“She’s been awesome to work with,” Earney said. “She’s kind of like a sponge. She’s taken everything that I’ve said and trusted it. I’ve been telling her for a year-and-a-half that she could jump as far as she’s jumping now. I think she can still go farther. It’s been pretty exciting.”
For most of her life, Larson has been in athletic competition. Her father Kent coached the three siblings (including Thomas) during their youthful days. Basketball was often the game. A 2015 article that appeared in the Norfolk Daily News detailed how regularly the Larsons could be found dribbling and shooting a basketball in the driveway of their home. It’s a family that is well established in the Norfolk community with Kent and his wife Karen having also graduated from Norfolk High School.
Leah calls her father and her high school event coach as two of her biggest early influences that have helped her reach her current level of success as an athlete. Kent is surely proud of how Leah has transformed into one of the NAIA’s top triple jumpers – but that’s just a small part of the larger picture. Said Kent of his children back in 2015, “They’re even better kids. That’s the best thing that people have ever told me. They’re even better kids. It’s a dream come true.”
In that sense, dreams have come true. Larson is a role model who Earney can hold up as an example for younger, aspiring student-athletes.
There are other dreams Leah is reaching for. She wants to crack 12 meters in the triple jump (which is pushing 40 feet) and she certainly won’t rule out the possibility of winning a team national title as the Concordia women did at the 2016 outdoor national championships.
A three-sport athlete at Norfolk High, Larson was recruited to Concordia by Nick Mann, a former assistant on the track staff. The circumstances may have changed a bit, but Larson seems to be just fine with how things have worked out. She has blossomed while working with Earney.
Says Earney, “I really enjoy coaching her and to see what she has achieved is awesome.”