John Strickland looked at his teammates and laughed.
What else was the University at Buffalo freshman high jumper supposed to do?
There he was competing in the Mid-American Conference track and field championships last weekend in Mount Pleasant, Mich., and he had just cleared 6 feet, 4 inches when the high-jumping gods apparently did him a huge favor.
"When I jumped, I hit the bar,'' said the 2011 Panama Central School graduate, "it bounced up two inches and landed on the standard. That never happens. It should have fallen off."
But on a "perfect day to jump," Strickland got a break.
"After that I knew this was my day,'' he said.
But not even Strickland could have predicted what would unfold on a warm, windless, overcast May afternoon at Central Michigan University.
How does MAC champion sound?
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Almost a year ago, Strickland captured the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Division 2 high jump championship, turning in a winning leap of 6-8. But nobody outside of Chautauqua County knew much about the 6-4, 165-pounder.
"I was going to go to (Jamestown Community College) and try out for the basketball team,'' Strickland recalled. "I'm really happy that didn't happen."
Credit for that goes to fellow freshman and Chautauqua Lake Central School graduate Craig Howard, who claimed a NYSPHSAA title in the pole vault in 2011. Howard, who was red-shirted this year, was talking to UB assistant coach Steve Esler one day last summer and mentioned something about Strickland.
By the end of July, Esler placed the call. As it's turned out, Strickland's recruitment has been a boom for Bulls.
But nobody envisioned Strickland taking the MAC by storm this spring.
Not even Strickland.
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During the indoor season, Strickland's best was 6-6, which he deemed a disappointment, so he trained even harder, but by the time the outdoor season began Strickland was in a slump, managing a jump of 6-2, at Toledo and at Bucknell.
"I was really upset,'' Strickland said, "so I changed my philosophy and trained smarter, not harder. It meant good reps, instead of more reps."
And then his performance level made huge strides.
After taking a week off, Strickland competed at Cornell where he used a "hybrid" technique, which was basically a combination of the style he used in high school and what he had been using at UB.
The switch was met with success as he leaped 6-6 that weekend followed by a jump of 6-7 at Penn State.
"I was pretty excited the weekend before the MACs,'' he said.
Strickland's excitement turned to jubilation a little more than a week ago when he blitzed his way through the field, not missing an attempt until he failed to clear 6-11, which would have qualified him for the first round of the NCAAs.
As it was, Strickland, 19, cleared 6-9 to break Esler's UB record. After passing on the opening height of 6-0, Strickland cleared each successive height in his first attempt to be declared the winner as three other jumpers, including UB freshman and Strickland roommate Chris Reape, also cleared 6-9, but they needed more than one attempt to do so.
After receiving his first-place medal, Strickland called his parents back home in Ashville to tell them the good news.
"I think they were speechless,'' Strickland said.
Sometimes there are no words for feel-good stories.