Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
Waterford's Phil Ngo practices the long jump at Hillcrest High. Ngo, now in 3A, won the state title in 2A last year. </I>

SANDY — It's always tough to defend a state title, but the task ahead of Phil Ngo ballooned to mammoth proportions almost overnight once Waterford switched classifications.

Ngo won the long jump crown last spring versus 2A competition, with a jump of 22 feet and 1 inch. A year later, he faces an unenviable prospect of attempting to repeat his success against a slate of 3A foes.

But after successfully adjusting to a transition from 1A to 2A following his freshman season, the senior fully embraces another chance to push himself to a whole new level.

"It's fun," Ngo said. "I like new competition. There's definitely lots to deal with in 3A."

If his performance during the indoor season serves as any indication, Ngo should adjust to life in a higher classification just fine. He recorded a top jump of 22 feet 10 inches at the UHSTCA Indoor Championships at BYU in February. That mark not only topped the rest of the field during the meet, but ranked as third best indoor distance all-time in Utah.

Ravens coach Troy Jones said Ngo's combination of a solid work ethic, natural ability and intelligence are what put him over the top in the event. Few jumpers can rival Ngo because few prepare like him.

"He's a smart kid and a student of the sport," Jones said. "He studies the physics of jumping. Knows his competition."

Ngo's smarts extend into the classroom as well. He gained acceptance into MIT earlier this month and plans to continue with track at the NCAA Division III school.

When he first heard the news, Ngo was awestruck by the idea he would be part of such a prestigious institution.

"That's something I was not expecting," Ngo said. "It opens up lots of possibilities for the future."

Ngo's future is bright this season because of all the work he put into getting to this level in past years. His interest in the long jump began with taking part in a long-standing long jump competition in his third-grade physical education class.

From there, Ngo joined the Dimple Dell Track Club during the summer before he started seventh grade and participated in track meets and track camps.

For him, a state championship was the culmination of all his effort. Everything fell into place at just the right time.

"You know, I felt like last season I worked harder than I ever had in the past and I think that was part of it," Ngo said. "Also, just getting older and getting stronger — that helped."

Since his freshman season, Ngo has helped build the Waterford boys track team from the ground level — doing everything from running on a couple of relay teams to recruiting other athletes into track over other spring sports such as soccer or lacrosse.

His continued dedication to the sport is enough to make Jones believe his senior year will experience no troubles carving out a niche among the best in 3A.

"He's smart enough to know what he needs to do, and I'm sure he's working just as hard, if not harder, than anybody else that will be competing against him," Jones said.

E-mail: jcoon@desnews.com