By Kyle LoJacono
Britainy Smith has accomplished much during her four years pole vaulting at Wharton.
The senior has captured three district championships, two Hillsborough County titles and earned her second state appearance in three years April 24 during the Class 4A regional meet at Leto.
Wildcats coach Wes Newton said Smith ranks with the best that have vaulted at Wharton, including 2003 Class 4A state champion Natalie Moser and two-time state title winner London Enos (2009 and 2010).
“She’s right there with what anyone has done here,” Newton said.
Smith, whose personal record (PR) is 11-feet, was invited to join the team by Enos. She said she was intimidated by the event at first.
“I didn’t know how this sport was going to go,” Smith said. “Then when I was clearing like 8-feet in the first couple meets it started giving me confidence.”
She quickly found the sport to be both thrilling and maddening.
“It’s very frustrating because a runner can just say, ‘Oh, I need to run a little faster than this person,’” Smith said. “It’s a lot simpler. With vaulting I have to run faster, be stronger and have the technique. Then you get better and have to use a new pole, and that changes the game again. … It’s definitely been a love-hate relationship, but it’s something I want to keep doing for a long, long time.”
She keeps a positive mindset during meets.
“I don’t want to think about what I’m doing wrong; I try to think about how to make it better,” Smith said. “Coach Newton always tells me to think about what I need to do, envision it in your head and go do it. … I try to look above the bar in the sky and tell myself I’m going to go that high.”
Smith won her first district title as a sophomore and finished as regional runner-up before placing 10th at states. Then some of pole vaulting’s famous frustrations kicked in.
She repeated as district champion as a junior, but placed seventh at regionals to miss a state berth.
“That meet I wasn’t able to use the pole that I usually use because the number that’s on the end had come off which tells you what kind of pole it was,” Smith said. “They said I couldn’t use it, so I had to jump on a pole I wasn’t comfortable with yet. It just came down to attempts, and I just wasn’t there.”
She returned to the same venue her senior year with the goal of making it back to states, and faced major pressure during her final attempt at 10-06. Smith had to clear the height or she would place fifth, one spot from a state berth.
“I was trying not to think about how this could be my last vault in high school,” Smith said. “I was trying to just focus on what I have to do in any meet. Just need to do my run, need to plant, I need to take off, I need to swing, I need to penetrate. Just step by step.”
She cleared the height and finished as regional runner-up.
“She’s great at rising to challenges and dealing with pressure like that,” Newton said. “She doesn’t fold under pressure, and she’s a real tough competitor.”
Smith said she had no expectations during her first state berth two years ago but now wants to come away with a medal by placing in the top eight. She thanked two people in particular for helping her reach the level she is at.
“Natalie has coached me in pole vault since I was a freshman, and coach Newton has always helped,” Smith said. “Newton has definitely helped me become the athlete I am today, and I couldn’t thank anybody more than him for that.”
The 4A state meet is May 4 at the University of North Florida.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker