#1 - Pasqualetti Conquers Quarantine To Set National Record
If our Moment #2 was all about the irrefutable ending to how sports had been contested in the decades before, then our Moment #1 is the response to that challenge. On March 12th, High School Sports effectively came to an end, for the indeterminate future. All the hopes and dreams of athletes looking to Spring Track would be put on hold. One of the greatest graduating Senior Classes would not get their attempts to write their name in the Record Books, one last time.
That is, except for one athlete in particular. Leah Pasqualetti (Orchard Park), who held the National Leading mark indoors, and was having a whirlwind Season, wasn't ready to give up. Moment #1 was about the perseverance it took to compete, and the rewards earned through that struggle. Aided by the solitary nature of her event, the Section 6 Pole Vaulter began her journey to an Outdoor National Record on March 13th, not knowing what would happen week-to-week.
It began with quarantine. As COVID-19 swept through New York, schools were shuttered. Sensing the change might be more permanent, Pasqualetti and her family shared a quarantine with her private Coach Mike Auble's family, allowing for practice in the backyard facility Auble had created for his own daughter, five years back. It allowed Pasqualetti to get jumps in, when all other facilities in the Country were shuttered. Small meets were held, limited to immediate family, and only three competitors. Leah would clear 11-ft, 12ft to win. Nothing impressive, but she was able to get on the pole. Then she heard word on a lone Pole Vault Invite taking place, on the other side of the country, on a private facility in California much like her own. She knew, whatever it took, she had to get there to take a shot at history.
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Editor's Note: This story, written by Kevin Czerwinski, was originally produced July 1st. It details the saga of our Moment #1 of 2020.
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That Leah Pasqualetti set a national pole vaulting record Friday night in the deserts of south central California shouldn't come as much of a surprise, at least not to those who have competed against her in the Northeast for the better part of the last 18 months.
It was the ease with which she vaulted 14 feet, 8.25 inches during the Vaulter Magazine Stars and Stripes Big Red Barn Meet in Menifee, California, however, which caught everyone's attention. Pasqualetti cleared each mark on her first three attempts [13-8 and 14-1.75], including the record-setting leap, in what was her first official competition since winning the New York State indoor title on March 7.
Pasqualetti's vault set the U.S. high school record, breaking the mark previously held by West Seattle [WA]'s Chloe Cunliffe, who vaulted 14-8 last year. Cunliffe remains the national high school indoor record holder [14-9]. Pasqualetti's effort was also the national mark for girls under the age of 20. Additionally, she shattered the New York girls' outdoor high school record previously held by Iroquois' Tiffany Maskulinski .
The Orchard Park High senior didn't miss until she attempted 15 feet, which she failed to hit on each of her three tries. She did, however, edge out Paige Sommers, the California teen who entered the competition as the country's top-ranked vaulter. Sommers finished a distant second [14-1.75].
Pasqualetti's effort left Mike Auble, her coach at The Warsaw Pole Vault Club, in awe, something that would seem pretty difficult to do considering all he has seen her accomplish over the last four years. That Pasqualetti was able to set the record under such trying circumstances only added to what was a performance that will be talked about for years to come.
"I'm amazed," Auble said. "She made every bar and never touched the bar. Sometimes you touch the bar and you get a little bar love but she never touched it. It was the most dominant performance I have ever seen in the best girls' pole vaulting competition ever.
"People don't realize that she woke up at 4 a.m. on Thursday, flew to Chicago, then on to San Francisco, then to San Diego and then took a two-hour car ride to the hotel Thursday night. Then she jumped on Friday night when the competition started at what was 10 o'clock our [Eastern] time. She broke the record after midnight Eastern Time when it was dark out there. And the fact that she went in against the No. 1 girl in the country, I'm just amazed."
Pasqualetti, 18, said that this was the first time she had ever "been clean" [no misses] at a meet, that is until she attempted 15 feet. She attributes much of that success to her work with Auble and their analysis of what stick and grip to use with each pole.
She also said that as long as she's feeling fresh and ready on jump days there shouldn't be any issues. That she was able to be fresh and ready Friday night after the odyssey of getting to the meet is also impressive.
"I think I was able to stay fresh by doing things such as staying out of the sun prior to the meet, being extra diligent in staying hydrated, rolling and stretching and just saving everything for the meet," Pasqualetti said. "It was just the most incredible night. Just getting to this meet and getting the chance to meet Paige Sommers and Taylor Starkey was incredible.
"It was incredible during warm ups. The sun was setting behind the mountains, we're in this beautiful facility in the middle of the desert and that all made it so super special. The girls were jumping super high into the stratosphere and that helped push us and bring our A-plus games. There was a lot of positive energy and people were really happy to get this chance to vault after our [spring] season got cancelled."
Auble attempted to provide as much of an unofficial spring season as he could, holding meets in his back-yard training facility. While they were able to work, he admits it was difficult trying to raise the adrenaline level to what it would be on the day of an actual meet.
Still, he took some unusual measures to help prepare Pasqualetti, who hadn't competed since her record-setting winter season, a season in which she set the state indoor mark [14-3] on Feb. 1. Auble had Pasqualetti train more than she ever had. Auble's family and Pasqualetti's family are also close so they "quarantined" together with Pasqualetti splitting her time between her home and Auble's.
Auble also took the unusual step of having Pasqualetti practice close to 11 p.m. to get her acclimated to Pacific Time and jumping at night.
"This spring there was a very big difference between just having practices and competition," Pasqualetti said. "Even in practice competitions it's always different than a real meet. I was talking with Paige and we were both saying that it was difficult to adjust back to competitions, the timing of it all and being around other people again. We tried to prepare the best we could but the adrenaline really gets flowing during a meet."
Pasqualetti will have ample opportunity to get that adrenaline flowing in the next few weeks. She is scheduled to jump in New Jersey this coming weekend followed by meets in Washington D.C. and Virginia. She'll also be looking to hit the 15-foot mark.
"I'd like to think that it's realistic," said Pasqualetti, who would become eligible for the U.S. Olympic trials if she hits 15-1. "As long as I keep trying, it will be in the cards eventually. We have analyzed videos and I've had maybe a foot of extra hip height [in practice] when going over the bar so that's how we have kind of judged it.
"I've been up there before but it's different once the bar gets up and you try to get your whole body over. We have reason to believe that it's possible, though."
Whether she hits that 15-foot mark this summer or next year while jumping for Kent State remains to be seen. She'll be doing so without Auble by her side next year, though. He plans on retiring from coaching once her summer season is complete.
"It has been a long-time coming," Auble, 44, said. "I said I was going to go for one more year working with a girl I was close to [Falconer grad Rachael Ward]. Leah was one of her training partners so I told her parents I'd see her through. It's time for my next chapter."
Pasqualetti said she knows the transition to a new coach will be difficult but added that she chose Kent State because she was looking for a coach that 'knew as much as Mike and was just as good at communication". She believes she has found that in Kent State's Bill Lawson.
"It's not something I'm worried about per se, it's just that I'm a little nervous like anyone else," she said.
Based on what she accomplished Friday night and the circumstances under which she did it, it would appear that Pasqualetti should have very few concerns regarding this summer and beyond.