By Kyle LoJacono
Pole vaulting isn’t for everyone.
The event takes speed, strength and, some would say, insanity to execute.
Most high school track and field teams have one, maybe two, brave enough to focus on the pole vault. At Wharton, there are six girls scoring buckets of points for the Wildcats.
The group has a pair of experienced seniors in Britainy Smith and Ashley Cahill leading the charge.
“I started as a freshman, and I didn’t even really know what it was,” Smith said. “I was on the cheerleading team, and a senior (London Enos), who actually won states her junior and senior year, she told Ashley and I to come out and try it because they needed new pole vaulters when she left. We said, ‘Why not?’”
Ashley was also following in her older brother Alan Ford’s footsteps as a Wildcats vaulter.
“When I first came out there was a little bit of fear, but once I started I knew it was where I wanted to be,” Ashley said. “Running down a runway is such a good feeling, especially when you PR.”
Smith, whose personal record (PR) is 11-feet, earned district titles the last two years and placed 10th at states during her sophomore season.
“Making it to states was so exciting,” said Smith, who plans to walk on at the University of Alabama. “I wasn’t expecting it. I was just trying to jump. I just wanted to PR at regionals, and I made it to states. Junior year was a little rough, didn’t make it, stuff happens, but this year I’ve been trying to work harder, focus on techniques and breaking bad habits. That’s helped me a lot.”
Ashley (PR 10) made her first state appearance in 2012, where she finished ninth.
“Regional was so hard because there were a bunch of us at the same height, so it came down to attempts,” said Ashley, who wants to walk on at the University of Florida. “Going to states was so exciting, and Britainy and I want to go together this year.”
Sophomores Mandy Lewis (PR 8), Khalesha Gibson (PR 8) and Abby Delisle (PR 7-06), along with freshman Amber Cahill (PR 7), round out the vaulting group.
“We’re like sisters, and it’s nice to have five teammates watching and telling you good job after a jump,” Ashley said. “They can also see something that the coach didn’t, and because we know each other so well we can say something another way that works for each of us.”
Delisle was convinced to compete by Smith and Ashley, who are her cheerleading teammates. Amber picked it up to follow her older sister Ashley.
Gibson needed some recruiting from coach Wes Newton, who also leads the cross country squad.
“I wasn’t going to do track,” Gibson said. “I was conditioning with the cross country team, and one day when I was stretching (Newton) told me that I looked like a pole vaulter.”
Lewis needed no encouragement.
“I always thought it looked really, really cool,” Lewis said. “I always wanted to try it. … It looked scary, but I like challenges.”
Delisle said the seniors always help the underclassmen while they prep for a run at states.
“They know what it’s like to just be starting out,” Delisle said. “They were where we’re at a couple years ago, and they do whatever they can to help.”
Gibson added that the performances of Smith and Ashley are motivating.
“They’re at 10 and 11 feet, and that’s where I want to be as a senior,” Gibson said. “I look up to them.”
Only four of the six can compete in any meet. The coaches use that as motivation, but the vaulters don’t feel like they’re working against one another.
“It’s not really competition; it’s just fun being around each other,” Amber said.
Delisle added, “You’d think you wouldn’t want someone to be better, but we’re always helping each other and really happy when any of us does well.”
Newton said the group gives them a big advantage.
“We’ve had a lot of good ones here, and it’s an event that really helps us because most teams don’t have so many pole vaulters,” Newton said. “It lets us score a lot of points in meets, and that sometimes makes the difference.”
Wharton used that edge to score 28 points in the pole vault at the Western Conference National Division meet to help claim the team title this year. Smith and Ashley also took first and third at the county championships to score 16 in the Wildcats’ runner-up effort.
“We know some teams don’t even have pole vaulters, so it’s a great feeling to be able to get those extra points that we need,” Gibson said. “It lets us know that we’re a big part of the track team.”
The vaulters and the rest of Wharton’s squad compete at the Class 4A-District 6 meet at Leto April 17.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker