Barrett setting lofty team, personal goals at NCAAs

TUCSON, Ariz. – Brigetta Barrett is aiming high — again.

Why would her next track and field event — just a regular part of her everyday life — be different from any other?

At next week’s NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore., the Arizona senior hopes – vows – to break the collegiate high jump record she set three weeks ago in Los Angeles, where she became the first college athlete to jump 6 feet, 6.25 inches (199 cm).

She wants a new one and intends to get it in her final meet as a college student. The 2012 Olympic Games silver medalist is confident she can get it — and perhaps help her sixth-ranked UA women’s track and field team win its first national title.

“I’ve always wanted to know what it feels like to be on the podium as a team, celebrating as a team,” said Barrett, the three-time indoor high jump champion who is hoping to also pull off a three-peat in the outdoor event. “To be a part of that and be an important part of that, cheering on my friends and teammates (would be good).”

Barrett, Julie Labonte (shot put, discus) and Georganne Moline (400 hurdles) are the standouts among Arizona’s “Fabulous 12,” as she called it.

How fabulous will be determined next week, but the three do highlight how strong of a group UA has. All three were 2012 Olympians. And for all three, there’s been a breakneck pace as far as coming back to Arizona, finishing school and putting priorities back in place.

“Whirlwind is a perfect word for it, because the whole year has been stressful,” said Barrett. “I’ve had some emotional ups and downs. I’ve had to will myself out of bed sometimes, (because) there’s a lot I’m trying to juggle. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to juggle.”

There are the body aches that comes with being a high-level athlete, the time needed to get things done, the 18 units of class work, the family demands and so much more.

“Graduating was the most important thing in my mind,” she said. “It was keeping my mind focused on a goal.”

She did, graduating cum laude with a degree in theater arts.

Moline, who earned a degree in general studies, looks to close out her career with a 400-hurdle title. She’ll spend this weekend at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, and she’ll stay there for next week’s NCAA meet.

“This meet is big for me, and it will help me prepare me for nationals,” she said. “I really want to surprise people. This race, I am an underdog. I’m ready and excited to do some things.”

She already has, of course, but hopes to do more after finishing fifth in last year’s Olympic Games. She did so after seemingly coming out of nowhere, as she was lightly recruited by Division I schools just a few years ago. But it’s a testament to her grit and determination to be one of the world’s best hurdlers.

Winning an NCAA title “would be icing on the cake,” she said.

“That’s something that’s really close to my heart. That was a more attainable goal from me, and I want to leave the UA knowing I helped the team out. And show coach (Fred) Harvey that everything he’s put into me has shown through.”

It’ll also be redemption for a meet that went awry. Last year, in the same event, with a chance at a strong finish, she tripped over a final hurdle, falling to the track in anguish.

“I’m so ready (this year),” she said. “That was devastating for me and coach and some teammates. We all want me to do some amazing things. I’m so ready to do what I came here to do.”

The confidence gained by her performance in London last summer drives her. In fact, she was about four years ahead of schedule in reaching the Olympic Games, an event she called part of her bucket list.

“They are dreams you have but ones you’d never think would happen,” she said. “I did (think they would), but not until later on in my life,” she said. “This came so fast, and I’m fortunate that it has. It’s the best experience of my life and just the beginning. I’m ahead of the game, and it can only get better from here. The future is bright.”

Just as it is for Barrett, who has literally leaped into fame and possible future fortune, with more possible if she shatters the world high jump record. Many have predicted that will happen down the road.

“There are a lot more eyes on me,” she said, comparing last year to this year. “There’s a lot more people asking of me — and not necessarily in a negative way.  Where much is given, much is required. Time has become very valuable, and I’m finding out the true essence of having to say no. In a perfect world, everyone gets ‘yes’ from me.”

She added that all the attention has caught her “off guard to handle real-world things.”

But the happy-go-lucky Barrett is still as bubbly as ever, and she said there are joys that come along with being an Olympian and being a Wildcat. And a possible three-time outdoor NCAA champion who has a chance to increase her record of 24 consecutive collegiate meet victories to 25.

But isn’t there pressure that comes along with those accomplishments? For Barrett, the only pressure is internal.

“I’m the type of person who puts pressure on myself,” she said. “I don’t get nervous, not when you put in the time or the effort. I always believe you reap what you sow. God has his hand on my career. I try not to worry and try not to put pressure, but I’m by nature a pressure person because I care so much.”