Indoor track and field was a way to keep in shape for soccer, but now this Conard student has attracted the interest of a multiple Division I colleges.
By Meghann Morhardt
When Audrey Kirkutis decided to join the indoor track and field team at West Hartford’s Conard High School during the winter of her freshman year, she was just looking for a way to stay active, but the rising senior never expected that high jump would become her ticket to a Division I scholarship.
“I didn’t really want to do track, I signed up on the last day just to stay in shape for soccer,” Kirkutis explained. “I wanted to do pole vault but Coach Matt [Redman] saw that I was tall and could run so he called me over to high jump.”
After just a few days of practice, Kirkutis cleared the state-qualifying height of 4 feet 6 inches and Conard’s jumping coach Matt Redman knew that his hunch about her natural abilities was correct.
“She was tall and just looked like she kind of had the quick-twitch muscles. And she was a soccer player, so I assumed she had some speed.” Redman said. “And with the instant success, we celebrated her and I think she loved it.”
Through continued practice and support from her coaches and upperclassmen leaders like 2020 grad Allison Schneider (who previously held the high jump record at Conard and now competes for Holy Cross), Kirkutis continued to improve and went on to win the Class L high jump championship as a freshman.
“As a freshman winning high jump with a height of 5-2, I think she really had that realization like ‘holy smokes, I’m already winning the state,’” Redman said. “’This is something I wonder how much better I could get,’ you know, maybe she had the college thoughts then, but it was very cool to see.”
Following the first indoor season, Kirkutis was excited to see how much she could improve during the outdoor season, but then COVID-19 hit and the season was canceled.
Despite limited practice, taking a break to play soccer in the fall of her sophomore year, and then not having a 2020-21 indoor season due to COVID, Kirkutis remained consistent through her second year on the track and field team. As a sophomore, she placed second in the outdoor state meet with the same height as her freshman year, helping to propel Conard to a second-place finish in Class L.
After the realization that with consistent practice, high jump could open doors for her, Kirkutis made the tough decision to quit soccer and pursue track and field.
“I just realized that track was what I wanted to do in my free time in the fall,” Kirkutis explained. “Coach Matt made me a spreadsheet of workouts with a lot of [exercises] like plyometrics, especially jump roping. And I just did that all summer, and into the fall, to really help me prepare for the indoor season.”
Kirkutis’ consistency and dedication paid off as the junior had her most successful year in 2021-22, even with Conard moving up to Class LL. At the indoor state meet, she placed first in high jump with a personal best height of 5-6 and was also third in long jump with a distance of 16 feet 7.5 inches. Both finishes were strong enough to qualify her for the state open where she placed second in high jump at 5-2.
But the awards did not stop there. Kirkutis was able to qualify for high jump at the New England indoor meet in Boston where she set a new PR with a height of 5-7 and won the event.
“I think this past winter after states and New Englands,” Kirkutis said when asked when she knew collegiate track was within her reach. “I knew coming into the fall that I wanted to try to do track [in college] but I didn’t really think I could do it at a high level.”
Kirkutis followed up her New England championship with a fourth-place finish at the New Balance Nationals Indoor championship in March before going on to earn more titles in the outdoor season.
The high jump accolades from her outdoor season included a second-place finish at the high school Penn Relays, second place in Class LL, third place at the State Open, second at New Englands, and ninth at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor (NBNO) championship. All of this while also placing second in the long jump at the Class LL meet and the State Open.
“She really took an extra leap this year,” Redman said. “I think because her mentals were in the right place even though juniors have a lot going on in their lives. … Her and the other jumpers, we did meditation before meets. We really focused, we talked about goals, so she was able to sit there and focus on what she needed to do in order to get the most out of herself.”
The dedication and mental shift, coupled with an impressive 4.2 GPA, has led to interest from multiple schools including UPenn, Dartmouth, Princeton, UConn, and Indiana. While Kirkutis is still in the process of making visits and talking to coaches, there are some things that she is keeping in mind throughout the process.
“I like to obviously see the campus and see how the feel is,” Kirkutis said. “I don’t really care if it’s city or suburbs, but I want to go into business, so I want to see how the business school as well.”
With another offseason of workouts under her belt, Kirkutis will be sure to impress some more college coaches during the upcoming indoor season.
“Right now, I’m focused on training,” Kirkutis said. “But this season hopefully I will be able to clear 5-8, which is a really big height for a lot of colleges. Then just keep improving at a constant level, which is hard to do when the heights get higher, but I think it’s possible.”
As she approaches her final year at Conard with a potential D1 scholarship on the horizon, Kirkutis is focused on leaving a lasting impact on the program.
“She really wants to help the young kids to succeed and be a model for them,” Redman said. “And I think that it’s really neat that she’s thinking like that. … I’ve been very lucky to coach a lot of great people, but Audrey’s the best jumper I’ve ever had. She’s a phenomenal jumper and she’s a phenomenal person to be around.”
Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford! Click the blue button below to become a supporter of We-Ha.com and our efforts to continue producing quality journalism.