A few minutes before his first jump at the 2014 Draddy Invitational, Koita was approached by the chief judge.
“Do you need a practice jump?”
“No. I’m good,” he said.
A couple minutes later, Koita had broken his personal record in the men’s high jump with a leap of 2.2 meters (7 feet, 2 ½ inches).
That’s just Koita being Koita.
His whole life, Koita has been used to being successful in short periods of time. Born in Cergy, France, high jump wasn’t even his first interest.
Koita grew up in a town where most guys started off with soccer. He chose to take up track when he was 12 years old, then switched to basketball when he was 14.
Koita played three years professionally for his club team Cergy in France, before coming to the United States. Prior to coming to Manhattan, he played two years at Stoneridge Preparatory School in California. His efforts at Stoneridge Preparatory earned Koita a spot on the French Under-19 National Team in 2009.
As a member of the Manhattan’s men’s basketball team, Koita played four seasons at the guard position. His best season came in his senior year in 2012-2013 where he led the MAAC in three point shooting with a 43.2 percent mark.
But at the end of his senior year, he decided to hang up his basketball sneakers and trade them for a pair of high jump shoes.
Track and field Head Coach Dan Mecca had been after Koita since his freshman year, but because his basketball schedule would interfere with his track schedule, he could not join the team.
“Since his freshman year I was harassing him to try to come out for the track team,” Mecca said. “One of the things I saw as a freshman was that he was so explosive off the ground and could jump so well, that I thought he could make a great high jumper.”
Mecca got his wish when Koita was cleared by the NCAA in 2013 and became eligible to join the track team. Under NCAA rules, an athlete has a five year window of eligibility, and because Koita had to sit out the first eleven games of the 2010-2011 basketball season with an ACL tear, he was given the green light by the NCAA to have an extra year on the track and field team.
But Koita’s decision to join the track and field team was not just based on the fact that it was something he had been wanting to do since his freshman year. After having his basketball career come to an end in an excruciating defeat at the hands of Iona in the MAAC Championship, Koita was fueled to not have his Jasper career end in defeat. He believed the time was right to give track and field a try.
“After we [men’s basketball team] lost I took about three weeks to a month off and cleared my head,” he said. “I spoke with Coach Mecca and it felt like the right time to do it.”
Since then, Koita has set the track field on fire. After four years of Division I basketball, Koita has seamlessly made the transition into high jump.
On April 13, 2013, in his first meet since he was in high school, Koita burst onto the scene by winning the high jump event at the Metropolitan Championships, clearing 2.09 meters (6 feet, 10 ¼ inches).
On April 26, just two weeks after his first meet with Manhattan, Koita cleared 2.2 meters (7 feet, 2 ½ inches) in the men’s high jump at the Penn Relays, a mark that broke a 33-year-old Manhattan record held by Rich Alexander.
Less than a month later, Koita tied for eighth at the 2013 NCAA East Preliminaries, which was good enough to qualify him for the NCAA Outdoor Championships. In the process, Koita became the first Manhattan men’s high jumper since Joe Sciuto in 1988 to qualify for nationals.
On June 7, 2013, Koita displayed his talent in the NCAA Outdoor Championships at the University of Oregon. In just his sixth meet of his collegiate career, Koita garnered an NCAA Second Team All-American honor by placing 16th in the high jump event, clearing seven feet and half an inch.
When first hearing about his Second Team All-American honor, Koita, who was still somewhat of a track and field novice said he didn’t even realize how big of an accomplishment it was. But after gaining more knowledge on the sport, he realized what a select category he is in.
“Now that I know more about track and what being an All-American means, I’m honored that I was named to the second team,” he said.
If anyone thought for a second that Koita’s season in 2013 was a fluke, they were proven wrong with the start he’s had to the 2013-2014 season. Koita has handled the added pressure of being an All-American by going out and winning six of the eight events he’s taken part in. In his most recent victory on Feb. 15, 2014 at the Draddy Invitational, Koita broke his own record by one centimeter, with a leap that cleared seven feet, 2 ½ inches.
However, Koita hasn’t let his success get to his head, and plans on keeping a consistent routine that’ll continue to reap rewards for him.
For Koita, it really is as simple as jumping. He’s just that talented.
“He’s just such a gifted athlete. He’s just so explosive,” Mecca said.
Mecca also acknowledged that because of Koita’s immense talent, he didn’t have to work one-on-one with him as much as he would with a typical first year track and field member.
“It was more conditioning and technical work I had to work with him,” he said.
Combining his superb talent and Mecca’s coaching, Koita is on the path to become one of the most illustrious track and field members in Manhattan’s history in just one and a half seasons. Despite coming in second place at the 2014 Indoor MAAC Championships on Feb. 21, Koita sits in ninth place in the NCAA for high jump, and looks poised to represent Manhattan College at the NCAA Indoor Championships on March 14-15, as the top 12 athletes earn a spot. And if he continues on this same path, he might have a chance to once again compete at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 2014.
Already a prolific high jumper in just one and a half seasons, the sky really is the limit for Mohamed Koita.