Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // JJ Kaplan and Submitted
The final sectional meet of Zionsville senior Katie Isenbarger’s career ended with her winning the high jump, clearing 5-feet-11-inches. Isenbarger also won the 400-meter dash in 1:00.20. Isenbarger closed the chapter on her high school career June 1 at the IHSAA State Finals where she finished second in the high jump after clearing 5’11”. In May, Isenbarger jumped 6’1”, which was the best in the nation this year.
The Isenbarger family has a strong history of producing excellent athletes. Phil Isenbarger is in the
Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and was a co-captain on Indiana’s 1981 national title team. Her uncle is John Isenbarger, who played on the 1968 IU Rose Bowl team and in the NFL. Katie’s older brother, Jack, starred in basketball at Elon, and her other older brother, Matt, was a Zionsville discus thrower. Both brothers went on to achieve high levels of athletic excellence post-high school.
Isenbarger is first in the state in the high jump at 5 feet 11 ½ inches, breaking a 35-year-old school record, previously held by Lisa Whitesell. Isenbarger currently ranks No. 3 in the nation. She was third in the state in volleyball hitting percentage and the top rebounder in basketball for ZCHS. As successful as she has been as a multi-sport athlete, the high jump is what has placed her well above her peers.
“I started track when I was in sixth grade,” Isenbarger said. “I was already taller than everyone else in sixth grade, so I, naturally, was a high jumper. I was pretty good as a sixth grader and just kept getting better in seventh grade. I broke our middle school record in eighth grade, and that’s when I knew that I was better than I thought I could be. At the very first indoor meet of my freshman year, coach [Jackie] Harder said to me, ‘We’re going to go 5’ 9” today,’ and at that point, my highest that I ever jumped was 5’ 7” during my eighth grade year. I ended up going 5’ 10,” and I was like, ‘Whoa, how did I do that?’ But it was mostly Coach Harder who pushed me to reach. She’s really the one who’s brought me to where I am now.”
Isenbarger and her coach formed a partnership, and together, they literally kept raising the bar to see what Isenbarger was capable of. And Isenbarger repeatedly exceeded the benchmarks that were set before her.
Isenbarger’s parents, Phil and Jenny, are a big part of her support system. Both were student-athletes and understand the importance of supporting their child, win or lose.
“We are just so happy for her because we knew that breaking the high school record is what she wanted,” Jenny said. “We hoped it would happen, but we would’ve loved her just as much if it hadn’t. But we were so excited. It was kind of a sense of relief too when she hit those milestones that were on her list.”
Phil added, “When you think about what has to come together for those kinds of things to happen, you have to have a really gifted athlete. You have to have an athlete that realizes they’re gifted. You have to have the training and the coach, and then you have to have a warm day and right conditions. And all of those things have to fall into place, so we’re just happy that all happened. When you think about jumpers specifically, what you find at the high school level, most of the time, is the jumpers and throwers are sort of told to just go practice. There isn’t a lot of skilled coaching. Katie has been very fortunate because she has had really skilled coaching from someone who was a college athlete in track and field as well.”
The Next Jump
Isenbarger will be attending Western Kentucky on a volleyball scholarship, though it is her intent to continue track and high jumping while in college.
“I’ll be going down there [Western Kentucky] around July 8 for volleyball training. That’s my main sport, I would say, but I’m also going to try and high jump there,” Isenbarger said. “I’m going to try to jump as much as I can. I’m super excited and have already met all the girls on the volleyball team and have had my official visit.”
Isenbarger reflected upon the lessons that she has learned over the last four years that she will take with her to college and wherever life leads her.
“When it comes down to it, being good at sports isn’t necessarily as important as that they [sports] have helped me grow as a person. I have been able to meet so many people, and what happens outside of the sport itself is more important than the actual sport.”
Isenbarger is a humble individual without a doubt and has learned the power of perseverance at an early age.
“Getting second in State last year was definitely disappointing for me,” she admitted. “But there is always another meet that you can do better at. There was an indoor state meet at the HSR finals this year where I had to run a 4×400 before I finished my high jump, and our team was slated to win that. I was the very first runner. The finals were held at IU’s elevated indoor track. The track is banked – you have to do two laps and then you have to ‘cut in.’ I was cutting in, and we started getting tripped up because there were too many girls trying to get in first right there. Since I was going slower, the girl behind me falls on me, and I fall off the track and get scraped up. But I popped right back up, and I finished, and we still did okay. Then I had to go finish high jumping. I was banged up and was crying, not because I was in pain but because I felt like I had messed it up for our entire 4×400 team. Coach Harder pulled me aside and gave me a hug and told me, ‘You’re going to be okay. You still have to jump. I ended up winning high jump, clearing 5’ 10.’”
Phil said about his daughter, “Toughness is a hard thing to define, but what all of her coaches will tell you, including the head coach at Western Kentucky who recruited her, is because of the way that she competes. Katie’s just a competitor. She might be telling jokes in practice, but when it’s game time, it’s game on.”
Coach Jackie Harder spoke about Isenbarger’s humble nature and coachability.
“From day one of her high school career, Katie has been a very talented and coachable athlete,”
Harder said. “I think that’s the key in that she is so humble and coachable. She likes to be pushed, and she’s one of those athletes that you don’t get very often. And when you do, it’s such a blessing to be able to coach someone like her who’s uber talented and humble. I feel like the chemistry between Katie and I over the past four years has really worked well. I am grateful for having been able to coach her.”
Harder was touched to hear about how Isenbarger attributes her successes and breaking records to her coaches. “I couldn’t be a great coach without great athletes,” Harder emphasized. “I tell myself that we have a small window to make an impact in these kids’ lives as teachers and as coaches. We can make it or break it for some of these kids. It’s so great to be able to work with student-athletes like Katie, and I have so many in Zionsville where they have such great parental support. Katie is an exceptional high jumper, and she is as good of a student as well as she is an athlete. Everything she does is with such joy and dedication. I always tell the girls to be hungry and humble. I think Katie exemplifies both. She is such a role model for the girls on the team, and I think she will go on and be that way around her college athlete sisters, which is important because it’s definitely a sisterhood.”