Prize Recruit — Sophia Beckmon

From her prep résumé, Beckmon brings to Illinois a 22-4 leap last spring, two Nike Outdoor titles and a NACAC U23 gold. (KIM SPIR)

DURING HIS TENURE at Georgia, including six years as head coach (2015–21), Petros Kyprianou built a reputation for emphasizing field events and the multis, elevating the Bulldogs into a national powerhouse. So when it came time to assemble his first recruiting class at Illinois, it was no surprise that he would be looking for jumpers and throwers as the core of his effort to rebuild a program that had languished near the bottom of the Big 10 for the better part of a decade.

Kyprianou’s initial target was long jumper Sophia Beckmon, who was coming off a junior year in 2022 in which she won the Nike Outdoor Nationals — in a season’s best 20-8 (6.30) — and was runner-up at the USATF Junior (U20) Championships. Her stock rose even further in April of her senior year when she popped a massive 22-4 (6.80) at the Nike Jesuit Relays at Hayward Field. No wind readings were taken, but that mark was just 1 inch behind the all-time High School Record.

The Oregon City, Oregon, star backed up her big 22-footer with a series of 21-foot leaps during the ’23 season, including a 21-7¼ (6.58) to defend her Nike Outdoor title and move to No. 7 on the HS all-time list. In July she won the NACAC U23 title in Costa Rica with a wind-aided 21-11½ (6.69).

“Sophia was the first big one we went after, well before she exploded to that 22-foot jump,” Kyprianou says. “We saw the talent and we knew how good she would be. We like her personality. And after we got her, we surrounded her with the rest of the crew.” Other frosh on the squad include Elizabeth Ndudi, the European U20 champion for Ireland this summer, triple jumper Llyric Driscoll, who reached 42-7½ (12.99) as a prep senior, along with a strong crew of high jumpers, pole vaulters and hammer throwers.

“My cards are pretty open, you can see what I’m trying to do there,” the coach adds. “Sophia is definitely the flagship of that recruiting class, being an American athlete and hopefully the next long jump star for the U.S.”

She will also factor in the sprints for the Illini. Throughout her senior season, Beckmon finished 2nd in the 100 and 200 to her Inner Circle Track Club teammate Mia Brahe-Pedersen at several big events, including the Oregon 6A championships and Nike Outdoors. She notched PRs of 11.32 and 22.99.

Beckmon flirted with the idea of staying close to home and enrolling at Oregon. Ultimately she signed on with Kyprianou, who came to Illinois from Georgia in 2022, convinced by his track record — and his field record — and the ambitious plans he had for her, spelled out in a detailed 40-page, four-year plan.

“The decision was really based on how much faith in Petros to bring me to where I wanted to go,” says Beckmon. “I knew he had high goals for me, and I also have high standards for myself, and being able to reach those is the biggest thing for me.”

So far, the training has been going well, if not a little demanding. “Of course, college practice at a DI school is going to be a lot different than coming from club practice and high school,” Beckmon says with a laugh. “But I’ve really enjoyed the change. It’s been interesting to see how motivated everyone is. Instead of being the best at your high school, you’re around people who are all great. I haven’t felt overloaded yet, at all. Just how much [training] is going on every day is kind of surprising.”

And she’s already seeing dividends. “In practice, I’m doing an 8- or 12-step approach and I’m jumping what I jumped last year at nationals that made me win, it’s crazy,” she says. “I’m really excited for the season to start to see what happens when I go off my actual approach distance.”

Fittingly, both coach and athlete have high expectations for the year ahead. “When you have somebody that jumped 22 feet in high school, and having an international gold medal, the goal has to be winning the NCAA title, indoor and outdoor,” Kyprianou says. “There’s no other way. It’s up to me to get her to that starting line in the best shape possible, because the competition is stiff.”

Beyond that, they are eying a spot on the U.S. Olympic team for Paris. “I know that’s a very hefty goal, a very ambitious goal, but like I said, when you have somebody at Sophia’s caliber and ambition, you’ve gotta go for it,” Kyprianou says. “I think Sophia has a very good chance, and it’s definitely something that we talk about every single day.”