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Carlsbad High’s Riley Millard is among San Diego County’s top long jumpers. But like it is for other prep athletes, Millard’s season, and her future, is up in the air because of COVID-19. Courtesy photo
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Sports Talk: Carlsbad’s Millard staying grounded but hopes to fly high

A mint chocolate chip milkshake is Riley Millard’s reward. Here’s to the Carlsbad High standout having one, and every other North County prep athlete, too.

Millard, who’s among the area’s top long jumpers, sits and waits for the when-and-if her senior year will include her soaring above the ground.

The pandemic that has halted high school sports is starting to set its sights on Millard having her wings clipped for the second straight year.

Millard, 17, can curse her fate, but only when including hundreds of other competitors who are also having to cool their jets.

“It didn’t just happen to me, it has happened to every athlete,” Millard said. “You have to consider how they are feeling, as well, which is sad and kind of depressing.

“Sports just got taken away from us and it was gone. We missed going out there and competing and just experiencing the excitement of it.”

Teenagers are asked to navigate much and COVID-19 just added to what’s on their plates. That’s especially true for students trying to transfer their athletic skills into college scholarships.

It’s hard to impress coaches minus competitive settings. It’s hard for those coaches to decipher which athlete to choose from minus those competitive settings.

Again, Millard’s story isn’t unique. It serves as an all-encompassing reminder of the upheaval in prep athletics.

“Sometimes you wonder if you’re training for nothing because a season can be taken away again,” said Millard, a two-time All-Avocado League selection. “Just like there was no football games or homecoming in my senior year.”

But when Millard dreams, she can envision herself jumping for a college. She’s hop-scotched the nation to visit the University of Colorado, Long Beach State, Northern Arizona University, Wichita State and the University of Kansas, to name a few.

“I could take virtual tours, but I like to see them in person,” she said.

Millard never saw herself being trained by Al Joyner, who now lives in San Marcos. The Olympic gold medalist in the triple jump at the 1984 Games is among those training Millard, as she joins workouts with his children.

Joyner spotted Millard’s hops at a championship meet and decided they had to meet.

The pair got together and soon Joyner was delivering wisdom and advice on getting the maximum of her in-flight entertainment.

“You should be doing this with your eyes closed,” Joyner told Millard.

Joyner was referring to Millard being so confident in sprinting to the white line to leap that she can reach her peak without taking a peek.

“We focus on everything that leads to the take-off,” said Millard, a two-time CIF San Diego Section finalist who’s twice been selected as Carlsbad’s MVP. “That’s crazy that a gold medalist is training us. But he is so patent with his drills and is a great coach to learn from.”

Millard also works with Carlsbad athletic director Sam Eshelman and Kelly Large, a former standout at UC Santa Barbara.

But Millard, like most prep athletes, does more than sweat for her own good. Millard is part of the National Charity League and has helped build houses in Tijuana through her church.

If everyone can say a little prayer that COVID-19 is soon tamed, what’s the harm?

“In my head I’m preparing like they will say ‘yes’ there is a season,” Millard said. “I’m trying to stay positive but it’s still up the air.”

That’s a place where the high-flying Millard is content, especially if the post-flight landing includes a shake of distinction.

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected]. Follow him @jparis_sports