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Sampson Jumps at Chance to Compete Again

April 06, 1999|CHRIS FOSTER

There is no doubt Anita Sampson is jumping for joy.

Her grin is the tip off. She's happy to be back at UC Irvine. She's ecstatic to be on the track and field team. Bubbly? She should be bottled and corked.

Few are able to appreciate their situation like Sampson.

That she is competing again is a bonus--for her and the track team.

She returned after a two-year layoff at the prodding of her boyfriend, Kentara McKinney, an Irvine sprinter. There was certainly no rust after her layoff. Sampson already has the school's third-best mark in the triple jump and the seventh best in the long jump.

That Sampson is in school, though, is what really makes her beam.

A year ago, Sampson was forced to take a quarter off to go to work.

Money had always been tight. Sampson, who graduated from Rancho Cucamonga High School, isn't from a poor family, but she fell somewhere between profit and loss.

"My parents made too much money for me to get financial aid," said Sampson, who is majoring in social science and sociology. "But I'm the oldest of six kids. There wasn't money for college.

"I went to Mt. [San Antonio College] first, but I couldn't do that to myself. I had already been accepted to UCI. It was such an accomplishment for me, that I had to figure out some way to get there."

Something had to go. Track went first.

Sampson, a junior academically, had been a standout in high school, and had even talked to Irvine coaches about competing for the Anteaters. They had no scholarship funds to offer her, so Sampson gave up the sport.

She spent her freshman year living in Long Beach and taking the bus to school--three hours to get there, four hours to get home. The journey was so grueling, an Irvine professor gave her a ride to school on the first day, just to make sure she got there.

The money crunch got worse last year, forcing Sampson to take time off. She was promoted to manager of a athletic shoe store, where she was a better athlete than many of her customers. Sampson wasn't committed to the job for the long haul.

"The thought that I would just work and give up school crossed my mind for maybe a second," said Sampson, who finally qualified for financial aid because she has lived away from home long enough. "It was just too important to me to go to college. That was my priority. I got the money and came back. Then I found this co-op apartment on the Internet that was on campus. At $157 a month, I jumped at it."

It was the only jumping she did . . . for a while. But she has never been too far from the sport with McKinney around.

"I didn't go see him compete as much as I should have," Sampson said. "I felt bad, because he would tell about his day and I would be like, 'I don't want to hear it.' I guess I should have been more supportive, but I wanted to be out there so bad.

"Kentara kept pushing me to compete again. He said, 'Just come and see if it's still fun.' I thought I was too out of shape. Boy, the people on the team were so supportive. I would be, 'I can't do this,' and they would push me and get me to stick with it. That really pumped me up. There was so much motivation for me."

Sampson went 18 feet 8 1/2 inches in the long jump in Irvine's first meet, finishing second in the Long Beach Jack Rose Relays. She has twice finished ahead of UC Santa Barbara's Jodi Bailey, the Big West Conference's defending champion in the long jump.

In the Big West Challenge Cup on Saturday, Sampson finished second in the triple jump with a personal-best 37-10. Her top long jump mark is 18-10.

"I only wish we could have had her out freshman year," Coach Vince O'Boyle said. "What she has accomplished this year is phenomenal. I thought we would see 18 feet from her, but at the end of year. I'll give you 36 feet in the triple jump, but 37 feet?

"What she has been through the last couple years just adds fuel to me. She struggled so much, but she is so pleasant to be around. She doesn't moan and groan."


Around her apartment complex, people refer to Sampson as "Grasshopper." At 5-1 1/2, she seems to explode off the runway.

"This friend told me I couldn't be a long jumper because I was too short," Sampson said. "That's when they started calling me, 'Grasshopper.'

"Actually, I claim 5-2. I'm only a smidgen off. It's like my jumps. If I go 18-8 1/2, then it's 18-9. I round it up. But I don't want the track people to know about the 'Grasshopper' thing."


Opponents have a different opinion about the Irvine men's volleyball team these days.

"A couple years ago, I remember Santa Barbara came to our place and a couple of their guys looked drunk they were laughing so much," outside hitter Donnie Rafter said. "It was obvious they didn't take us seriously."

A dangerous thing in 1999. Irvine beat top-ranked Long Beach State and seventh-ranked Hawaii last week, adding to the eyebrow-raising victory over No. 2 UCLA this season. The two victories earned Rafter national player of the week honors from the American Volleyball Coaches Assn. this week.

The Anteaters, meanwhile, have gone from doormat to knocking on the door of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation's postseason tournament.

The top three teams in the two divisions, plus the next two teams with the best records, qualify for the tournament. Irvine, which has never qualified, is in fourth the Mountain Division.

The Anteaters at 13-8 have obliterated the previous school record for victories (nine). They have won four consecutive matches heading into Saturday's match against third-ranked Pepperdine.

"I think at the start of the year, our first goal was to be competitive," outside hitter Mike Rupp said. "We haven't always done that in the past. I hope everyone is respecting us now."

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