All-American Clarissa Cutliff Continues Conference-USA Domination

Written by Christian Almanza/Staff Writer

Finishing in first is typically something to feel positive about, but don’t tell that to FIU track and field star Clarissa Cutliff.

The senior standout started off the outdoor season on an assumingly good note after placing first in the high jump event within two consecutive meets — the Miami Hurricane Invitational and the UCF Invite.

“I’m at a [point] in competing where the placing doesn’t really matter to me.” said Cutliff. “It’s my marks that matter. I didn’t really hit the mark that I wanted but I was still happy with [the placing].”

At the UCF invite Cutliff recorded what was the highest jump in the nation at the time with a 1.85m mark.

That mark tied a personal best for Cutliff which she previously set during her sophomore year at the 2017 Clemson Orange & Purple Indoor.

Yet Cutliff remains unsatisfied and continues on a personal quest for self-improvement.

“My start wasn’t what I wanted but at the UCF meet I got a chance to get a mark that was obviously pretty good to be leading the country” she said. “I’m still very optimistic about the season and I’m just excited to improve on that mark.”

As of this writing Cutliff’s mark currently ranks second in the nation for the outdoor season after Tyra Gittens of Texas A&M posted a 1.87m jump on March 27th.

Since initially achieving that personal best in 2017 Cutliff has tied it twice, with the other instance coming at the Miami Hurricane Collegiate Invitational in 2018.

When asked if she has been on a perpetual quest to shatter that mark ever since, Cutliff answered definitively.

“That’s the big goal.” said Cutliff. “People think it’s easy because it goes by centimeters but it’s hard to beat.”

She quickly pivoted however and buried the notion of difficulty.

“I’m going to get it before I leave [FIU].” she said confidently.

Cutliff is arguably the most noteworthy student athlete to currently be donning blue and gold for the FIU Panthers.

She is less than a month removed from becoming the Conference USA Indoor High Jump Champion for a third consecutive year.

Along with her three indoor medals, Cutliff has collected an additional three crowns in the high jump event at the C-USA Outdoor Championships.

The decorated jumper has earned multiple All-American honors while at FIU, including a first team selection last year after placing fifth at the NCAA Indoor National Championships.

Cutliff says she would have never imagined having this type of success before coming to FIU to compete at the Division 1 level.

“When I came [to FIU] my coach would tell me how much potential I had and how I would be able to score in Conference USA.” she said. “But imagining being ranked at a national level, I didn’t expect it at all.”

Cutliff also has three state championships under her belt dating back to her days at Edgewater High School in Orlando, Florida.

What’s most impressive about her success is the fact that Cutliff had no high jump event coach in high school.

Cutliff said she would learn by watching pro jumpers compete and attempting to mimic their style as best she could.

“I would just drill it into my practices.” said Cutliff. “I would look up different drills to help me increase my vertical and help me with my form and that helped a lot.”

Cutliff’s natural physical ability combined with strict discipline allows her to excel at any level.

Along with track and field Cutliff was talented enough to also play basketball and volleyball during her freshman year of high school.

“As the years went on it just dwindled down.” she said. “Nothing else compared to it so it just ended up being track.

Considering her tremendous success at the high school level, FIU seems rather fortuitous to have an athlete of such an accomplished stature.

PantherNOW student media asked Cutliff about the other college offers she received and how she narrowed her choice to FIU.

“Surprisingly I didn’t know much about the college process.” she said honestly. “I didn’t know that I was good enough to go D1 or anything like that. I was just doing it because that was what I enjoyed doing.”

Without divulging too much information Cutliff stated that FIU was one of the main schools that recruited her at the time, but definitely not the only one.

“I wasn’t really willing to leave Florida when I opened up my recruiting process because I don’t like the cold.” said Cutliff.

Jot that down as another victory for sunny South Florida’s beautiful weather that never ceases to draw people to the area year-round.

When asked if she was aware of FIU’s existence before she decided to visit, Cutliff denied knowing.

“I actually found out about FIU through a teammate.” she said. “I took a visit here and I fell in love with the campus and that’s what made me come here.”

That goes to show that out-of-state dwellers are not the only people failing to recognize FIU, a relatively young university that is still working to grow its national brand.

If the university can continue to sway athletes in the future such as Cutliff it will continue on a positive trajectory towards becoming a household name.

One thing that Cutliff said did not dissuade her from coming to FIU is that fact that the campus lacks proper facilities for track and field. The team regularly has to go off-campus to train and practice.

“I knew I’d be getting my work somehow some way, so that didn’t deter me at all.” she stated.

Cutliff mentioned the coaching staff at FIU as a key reason for her decision to attend the university, including head coach Ryan Heberling and assistant coach Chris Sullivan – who works more directly with Cutliff on jumps.

“They’re great people. They encourage me [and] uplift me a lot.” said Cutliff. “They’re just one of my big support systems and play a big role in my success.”

Cutliff will eventually be going for her fourth consecutive Conference USA high jump title in the outdoor campaign, with a chance to compete at the NCAA National Championship in June if she fares well enough at the regionals prior to that.  

When she graduates following this season, Cutliff says she will be joining the US Military in July.

Another option would be training for the upcoming summer Olympics in 2020, but Cutliff says that is something she has still not made a definitive commitment on.

“Day by day I am thinking about it. It just depends on how I end this season.” she said. “But I have definitely thought about it”.


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