By John Connolly
Spread your thumb and forefinger apart just 11⁄4 inches. That's the slim margin separating the Stonehill College men's track and field team from proudly boasting not one, but two 7-foot high jumpers.
Skyhawks junior Corey Thomas, a five-time All-America selection and the 2010-11 NCAA champion for the indoor high jump, has a personal best of 7 feet, 21⁄4 inches while winning the New England Indoor Championships on Feb. 27, 2010. Thomas, a 6-foot Brookline native, also holds the Stonehill record for outdoors at 7-11⁄2 set at the USATF Junior National meet on June 24, 2010.
Both competed this morning at the prestigious Penn Relays in Philadelphia.
Thomas' teammate, freshman Nick Staley, a 6-foot-2 Medway resident, gained NCAA provisional qualifying last week when he finished second to Thomas' 6-11 jump with a personal-best leap of 6-103⁄4 at the Skyhawks Invitational held at W.B. Mason Stadium in North Easton.
The duo will also compete Sunday in the Brown Springtime Open at Brown Stadium in Providence.
Thomas and Staley rank Nos. 10 and 13 among high jumpers nationally in Division 2 and are prepping for the NCAA Div. 2 Nationals at Colorado State-Pueblo later this season.
Adding to the uniqueness is that both athletes graduated BC High.
"I think they like the camaraderie," said Stonehill coach Karen Boen. "We have a great bunch of student-athletes and I think jumpers like to be around other jumpers. I think when we're recruiting at Stonehill, it's not an easy place to recruit to, but all these kids come from good academic backgrounds. I think that they're aware that the Division 2 experience will help them get to the NCAA championship sooner. So, I think they've done their homework, when they know it can help them qualify for the nationals, it helps."
Records are a tad sketchy, but in the 100 or more years of New England college track, it is believed that Boston University is the lone school to have two 7-foot high jumpers at the same time. Back in 1985, BU legends Clarence "Nick" Saunders cleared 7-5 and Greg Gonsalves of Falmouth leaped 7-3 at the NCAA Indoor Championships. UConn came close to having three 7-foot leapers in 2009, but Dorchester's Marquis Thomas, and teammates Ellis Gaulden and Dan Hutcherson came up just shy.
"Close, but no cigar," said UConn coach Greg Roy when asked about his three jumpers.
Boen said Thomas has clipped the bar with his heel in practice at heights of 7-4 or 7-5. She believes Staley will only get better once he clears the magical 7-foot barrier.
"Anytime you look at a ruler at 7-feet and 6-feet-10-inches, there's not much difference," Boen said. "I think they'll get there. I'm a positive person."