When Isabel Maletich underwent an appendectomy in December, she worried about four weeks of recovery ruining her women’s indoor track and field season.
“In the hospital, I was really frustrated. Of course, it had to happen right now as the season was starting,” said Maletich, a 2018 Downers Grove North graduate who recently completed her freshman year at the University of Chicago.
“I didn’t even know if I was going to make it to conference (Feb. 23-24). I wouldn’t be able to accomplish what I wanted. I was pleasantly surprised. Now I know you can’t judge things too quickly.”
Maletich stunned everyone – especially herself – by winning the NCAA Division III indoor national championship in long jump with an indoor school record 5.91 meters (19 feet, 4 3/4 inches) March 8 in Boston.
Maletich became the Maroons’ first freshman national champion by achieving a then all-time personal best by more than 11 inches on her fifth of six jumps.
With her then school-record 5.62 meters (18-5 1/4), Maletich had entered as the No. 18 seed.
“[Winning] wasn’t even a possibility [and then] it was going to happen, so that was just completely exciting,” Maletich said.
“The biggest thing was I wanted to make finals and try to get All-American because I was really close. Everything just felt right [on that jump]. I jump and [often] I’m like, ‘I could have done this better.’ I didn’t have any of those feelings.”
Indoors and outdoors in long jump and triple jump, Maletich earned top-eight All-America honors in every event. The NCAA Division III outdoor national championships were May 23 to 25 in Geneva, Ohio. Along the way, she set four school records.
With lifetime bests and all-time school records at outdoor nationals, Maletich was second in long jump (6.02 meters/19-9) – 2 inches from first – and eighth in triple jump (12.18/39-11 1/2). She finished sixth in triple jump at indoor nationals (11.77/38-7 1/2) after an indoor school record 11.82 (38-9 1/2) March 1.
The All-America trophies line the living room bookshelf at her Woodridge home along with her award as the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Association’s Most Outstanding Women’s Field Performer indoors.
“It fits, but if I get any more, we’ll have to find a new place,” Maletich joked.
“I ended up going further outdoors. I won indoors, but then I jumped really well outdoors, so it’s kind of hard to decide which [achievement] was more exciting. I’m ecstatic that I got 4-for-4 (All-American).”
Maletich holds Downers North’s indoor and outdoor school records for long and triple jump and earned four Class 3A top-nine all-state medals and 14 conference titles. Her records were 39-5 1/4 in triple jump for second at the 2018 state meet and 18-7 1/2 in long jump. She was fifth in triple jump at state in 2015 and 2016 and sixth in long jump in 2017.
In college, Maletich certainly thrives at big meets.
“If there was one thing that made the biggest difference for Isabel, it was her demeanor,” University of Chicago jumps coach Justin McQuality said.
“Isabel has a natural internalized belief that big meets are only there to help her improve her performance.”
After missing two meets, Maletich competed at the indoor University Athletic Association conference meet, winning long jump (5.62) and being named the conference’s Indoor Rookie of the Year. She also won long jump outdoors and received ROY outdoors honors.
“[Breakthroughs] could have happened any other meet, but it happened at nationals, where it really matters,” Maletich said. “I’m pretty lucky that I don’t get drowned down by pressure. I feed off the energy. Everyone there is good, so you actually know you have to do well to win.”