Billy Ivey still vividly remembers the low point in an otherwise brilliant high school track career.
It came last year, when the Nogales High triple jumper realized that he had failed to qualify in his specialty by a mere quarter of an inch at the CIF Southern Section Master's Meet.
At the time, Ivey said, it was like a nightmare that he simply wanted to forget.
Since then, the 19-year-old senior has taken steps to turn his disappointment into a positive experience.
"I missed making the Master's by one-quarter of an inch, but I think that was the best thing that could have happened to me," Ivey said. "It made me work harder. Now when I go out at practice and meets, it's always at 110%."
It's an all-business approach that Ivey said he didn't follow in the past. It has helped him produce marks of 49-0 1/4 in the triple jump--fourth best in the nation among prep athletes this year--and 24-0 in the long jump. He has also run the 100-meter dash in a swift 10.7 seconds.
Ivey gives much of the credit for his improvement to his coach from outside school, Charles Yendork, who started working with him in January.
"One of the main reasons for my success this season is I know that I have to be serious about this, and I think the biggest thing that has changed is Mr. Yendork being my coach," Ivey said.
Yendork, whose daughter Julianna attends Walnut High and is the nation's best prep girl long and triple jumper, said Ivey improved quickly after he started working with him.
"He started with me after Christmas, and he has progressed from (about) 45 feet then to over 49 feet now," Yendork said.
Ivey said the coach helped instill a hard-work approach to practicing and competing and improved his confidence.
"It was the little things that he worked on that made a big difference," Ivey said. "He's helped me build my confidence back up. I'm back at the level where I should be. It's not that I'm cocky. I just know what I'm supposed to be doing. When I go to a track meet now, all I try to do is execute like I do in practice.
"I feel like you can accomplish anything if you work at it, and Mr. Yendork has me believing in myself."
Besides instilling a better attitude and improved confidence in his performance, Ivey said the coach has also worked on the technical aspects of jumping.
"He's a world-class jumper," Ivey said. "He was in the 1976 Summer Olympics, so he knows the triple jump. He can break it down for you in steps. He's a technician. He works with you on the little things that other people don't know as much about, like how to plant your feet and how not to break your speed when you're jumping. Those are things that keep you from going from 49 to 52 feet."
While Yendork is pleased with Ivey's progress, he says there is still a lot of potential for improvement.
"I think he can be jumping 51 or 52 feet," he said. "Right now he should be jumping two more feet, and I think in the next couple of meets he should be jumping over 50 feet. We know he's in that range, so I won't be surprised if he gets there in the next couple of weeks.
"That's where he is right now. It's just a matter of time. I think before he graduates he's capable of jumping in the 54-foot range."
When Yendork first started speaking to Ivey about his potential, Ivey said he had difficulty believing the coach. That is no longer the case.
"My coach always tells me, 'Billy, at any time you can go 52 or 53 feet (in the triple jump).' Before, I just said, 'Really?' But now I truly believe him. I've almost gone that far in my scratch jumps."
Ivey first displayed his potential as a freshman at since-closed Edgewood High in West Covina, when he produced a top mark of 47-3 1/2 in the triple jump--the best leap in the nation for a freshman at the time.
As a sophomore at Edgewood, he improved to 49-1 in the triple jump and 23-5 1/4 in the long jump in winning both events in the Southern Section 2-A Division finals.
But Ivey's career took one giant leap backward in his junior year. Ivey started the year at West Covina, which had merged with Edgewood, before transferring to Nogales after football season.
He said his problems started after he sprained his ankle in a football game against Glendora. He said he never fully recovered, mentally or physically, from the injury the rest of the school year.
"I almost broke my ankle in football, and I wasn't as focused on track as I was in the two years before that," Ivey said. "The first two years I always thought I knew what I wanted. I wanted to be the best."
While the ankle might have affected his performance at first, Ivey said, it was his attitude that cost him the most last season in track.
"I got to the point where I would think, 'Hey, I'm Billy Ivey,' and all I had to do was show up," he remembers. "I thought it would be easy, and I found out the hard way. You have to work at it, and you always have to try your hardest. The gods have blessed me with pretty good speed and jumping ability, and I wasn't using it. It was a nightmare. Guys I was beating by five feet before (in the triple jump) were beating me."
Fortunately for Ivey, his senior year has been considerably more memorable so far.
It started with football season, when he starred as a tailback and defensive back for Nogales. He rushed for 1,006 yards and eight touchdowns and intercepted five passes to lead the Nobles to the Division IV semifinals--the best finish in school history.
He was also named to The Times All-San Gabriel Valley team and made the All-Sierra League squad on offense and defense.