CANTON Olga Branney is having a strong freshman season for the Malone track and field program.
Her fast start coincides with Branney herself being stronger, a development she traces directly to the efforts she’s put in with the team’s strength and conditioning staff since arriving on campus.
“Definitely strength training was the biggest thing we’ve done. Also, before this I didn’t have a coach who specifically focused on high jump,” Branney said. “We really eased into it (strength training) and didn’t do a lot all at once, so I was able to get used to it.”
In high school, the former Green standout’s lone event was the high jump, a fact she liked because it allowed her to focus all of her energy on one specific thing and not be worried about multiple events. Once she got to Malone, she quickly noticed that strength training was a much bigger element of the process than it was in high school and getting into the weight room more has led to direct benefits on the track.
She’s won the Great Midwest Athletic Conference Field Athlete of the Week Award three times during indoor track season and set the school and league records in her signature event. Branney's latest record-breaking leap came at the Tiffin University Dragon Open, where she won the high jump with a top height of 5’6”.
The jump tied the all-time best jump in school history and broke her own G-MAC record, along with putting her in a tie for 20th among NCAA Division II high jumpers. The previous school record was set by Theresa Dyer and Erica Knowles, who both reached the mark during the 1986 season.
In her next meet, Branney placed second by jumping 5’5” at the Kent State Tune-Up meet. It was another strong outing for the freshman, who followed her friend, former Green teammate and Malone senior middle distance runner Erika Rector to Malone and along with the Green duo, there are seven former Federal League athletes on the roster.
Being stronger has not only allowed Branney to reach new heights in the high jump, but it’s allowed her to make progress in fighting one of her biggest adversaries: injuries.
“I’m very injury prone and if I put too much stress on my body it starts to break down,” Branney said. “My freshman year of high school I had a pretty bad back injury and it’s why I didn’t jump my junior year.”
By improving her overall strength, Branney’s hope is that she can avoid injuries and not have to miss meets due to the sorts of injuries that would pop up during her high school career. She’s taking on challenges off the track as well, attempting a triple major she hopes will lead her to her career goal of becoming a certified public accountant.
With majors in accounting, business administration and finance, she’s taking on a heavy course load, but the three majors all complement one another and there is some overlap between them in terms of academic requirements.
The challenges of the track season are about to take a turn as well, with indoor season ending in early March and outdoor season kicking off just one week after the NCAA Division II indoor championships. Malone’s first outdoor meet of the season will be at the Bob Davidson Spring Kickoff at High Point University in North Carolina, starting a busy two-month span in which the Pioneers will compete in several meets in Ohio and beyond.
The outdoor season presents new obstacles for Branney, who admitted that she prefers the controlled environment of indoor track to the variable-laden outdoor setting.
“I like indoor better because with high jump, the weather really is a big factor and if it’s windy, that has a big impact, so indoor takes that out of the way,” she said.
Wind or not, the way Branney has performed through the first few meets of her initial season of college track and field, her chances of continuing to set records and clear the bar - indoor or outdoor - appear strong.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB