Birth Of An Event: A History Of Female Vaulting in NY - Pt.6

Pole vaulting is the most enigmatic event of track and field. To succeed in PV, an athlete must hurl herself like an Amazon warrior down a long runway while charging at a largely invisible and thus all-the-more-challenging barrier, then rocket herself upward with the help of a firmly planted pole and twist like a vaulting gymnast over a precariously balanced bar, then execute a parachutist's plunge to the pads far below. To thrive in this sport, it takes a lot of work, tons of disappointments, super tough shoulder muscles, and an awesome amount of courage.

From the launch of New York girls high school pole vault as an NYSPHSAA sanctioned event in the spring of 1998, the sport did thrive. Pioneer Michelle Kercado quickly got a national record in 1999 for Monroe-Woodbury, and Mt. Sinai's Amy Linnen won an outdoor national title in 2000.

The culmination of the history-making first wave of vaulters came in 2005 with Lancaster senior Mary Saxer clearing 14-2 indoors and Iroquois senior Tiffany Maskulinski skying 14-0 outdoors. Saxer picked up two national titles in 2005, while Maskulinski claimed the national outdoor crown in 2004.

Both Saxer and Maskulinski along with high-flying Jenn O'Neil of Fairport did most of their training with the Suhr Sports club run by Rick Suhr in upstate NY near Rochester. But in 2006 Suhr started coaching the 2000 States pentathlon champ, Jennifer Stuczynski of Fredonia, in the PV during her senior year at Roberts Wesleyan college in 2004.

Stuczynski quickly rose to the top of the national stage, winning her first US outdoor title in 2006, and she would go on to set world records and capture Olympic silver in 2008 and then the gold medal in 2012 after marrying her coach and becoming Jenn Suhr. Even in 2021 at the age of 39, Suhr remains one of the top vaulters in the world and has her sights set on an attempt for more gold if the 2021 Olympics are held. And her rise to the top of international action has exerted a lasting pull on the NY athletes who have followed her.

With Suhr Sports heavily focused on its international star, the center point for NY high school PV training started to shift elsewhere, though many top athletes visited the Suhr facility for expert guidance in the following years. To meet the needs of T&F's most dangerous and complex activity, more than a half dozen PV training facilities were established across the state to provide a high level of technical mentoring.

One of the first PV centers to make a big impression in the NY girls' scene after 2005 was the Hudson Valley Flying Circus, located about two miles away from Warwick Valley HS. Run by local coaches Tim St. Lawrence of WV and Hugh Cauthers, Kercado's coach at Monroe-Woodbury in the late 1990s, the Barn as it was known started churning out a succession of state champions including Washingtonville 2007 graduate Stephanie Duffy (see Part 5 of series) who would later become a fixture on HVFC's coaching staff.

Four other high-flyers from the Barn followed Duffy in quick succession. Port Jervis's  Sydnie Leroy (shown at top) was the 2009 States indoor and outdoor champ and who reached a 12-6 PR. Cornwall's Adrienn LaChance (shown above clearing bar) posted the top heights indoors during 2008 and 2009, and earned a best of 12-7.5. Lakeland-Panas's Carissa Leonardi (shown above) won both of the States titles in her junior year in 2010 and reached a PR of 12-7 in her senior year.

James O'Neill's double States winner Megan Clark (shown at left) in 2011 as a junior reached 13-0 indoors before moving to Georgia in her senior year. In college she would twice finish 2nd in the NCAA D1 championships while reaching 15-2.25 for Duke. In 2017 as a club athlete Clark would take her top Open division mark at 15-1 while finishing 2nd to Jenn Suhr at the Texas Relays.

Following Maskulinski's 14-foot vault late in August 2005 until February 2017, only Clark in 2011 reached as high as 13 feet. In the years following Clark's triumphs the center of girls' PV in NY shifted mainly westward. Though Suhr Sports was still pretty focused on Jenn Suhr's drive for her 2012 Olympic gold and continuing international competitions, a few upstate PV centers stepped in to also provide the sky warriors with the tools they needed to drive upward.

Jenn Thill of Lancaster was the one of the top vaulters of the following years as she took the highest mark in the state in her junior year in 2012 and rode it to the top with wins at both States meets as a senior and indoor and outdoor PRs of 12-8 and 12-9.25. Like many pole vaulters also an accomplished gymnast, Thill trained with eastern Buffalo area Six Club, and later at the University of Buffalo she would push her marks a little higher but fall a half inch short of the 13 foot bar.

Another vaulter whose HS career spanned much of the years of the 2006-2015 second wave of NY vaulters was Warsaw's Karmen Auble, who was based about 35 miles east of Thill's training area in Section 6. In 2009 Auble broke the 7th grade outdoor PV class record four times, and she amassed a total of 17 instances of new class records indoors and outdoors between 2009 and 2011, which has got to be a record in itself.

Auble trained right at home in the garage-and-backyard PV facility that her father Mike and mother Lynn had set up when she was still a 5th grader. Known as the PVP club of Warsaw (from an early name of Pole Vault Plant), PVP would help a big number of athletes besides Karmen achieve fame.

But though Auble was always in at least the top 10 of state rankings from 8th grade on and went to indoor or outdoor States eight times in the PV and four times in the shot put (best of 40-3, plus a none-too-shabby 17-4.5 in the long jump), she could never quite get to the top of the podium there. That changed at her final States meet in June 2014 when she fouled three times in the shot put to finish last there but then finally captured the PV title with a vault of 12-3, four inches short of her PR. At Xavier University, Auble would go on to capture two Big East titles in the shot put.

A few other athletes who graduated during the 10-year-span that followed Maskulinski's big vault of 2005 made their presence felt in a big way. Another ex-gymnast, Norwegian native Kari Stromhaug of Vestal, helped put Section 4 at the top while participating in seven pole vault and five high jump competitions at States meets. Following up on some strong showings from another Vestal vaulter and 2010 graduate Camille Ginyard who for a while held the state freshman class record, Stromhaug captured the 2014 and 2015 States indoor titles, and she posted a top mark of 12-3.

Catherine Walker of Monroe-Woodbury was another HVFC product who earned trips to States both as a triple jumper and pole vaulter and set an NY best for 2015 of 12-7 before placing 2nd at States. Walker's Crusader classmate Samantha Beyar also broke 12 feet indoors and outdoors and picked up some high places at States.

The Third Wave Begins to Roll

Through 2015, the surge of interest in girls' pole vault in NY was undeniable. In 2006 the number of girls who had cleared 7-0 outdoors during the year stood at 216, but by 2015 the tally had reached 471 in the spring.

What wasn't moving higher though was the marks of the top vaulters. The overall state records for both of the indoor and outdoor seasons had stayed well out of reach of vaulters for ten years, as no one had come within a foot of Mary Saxer's 14-2 indoors mark or Tiffany Maskulinski's 14-0 outdoors record.

In addition, no NY vaulter had competed at the very top for a national title in a long time, as Stephanie Duffy's 3rd at 12-6.75 at NSIC indoors back in 2007 and Megan Clark's 4th at NBNI at 12-6.25 in 2011 and Duffy's 2nd at Nike Nationals in 2007 at 12-10.75 and Carissa Leonardi's 6th at NBNO outdoors and Clark's 7th at 12-3.75 in 2011 were the best results.

All that was about to change in great part due to a vaulter from Gates-Chili with a nicely alliterative name and a penchant, like Karmen Auble, for smashing records at a young age.

When 2016 began, Bethlehem's Tedi Demaria (also connected with HVFC) was the reigning NY queen of the vault, having rebounded in her 2015 junior year from a 14th place finish at indoor States to capture the outdoor title with a big PR of 12-3. During her senior year she took 2nd at indoor States with a 12-0 best and then set her indoor PR with a terrific 4th at indoor Nationals as she leaped up to 12-8.75.

The vaulter who stood in the way of Demaria's second States title was a wunderkind from Section 5's Gates-Chili named Erica Ellis. Beginning with an 8-6 best in her 7th grade year of 2014, Ellis captured Auble's 8th grade indoor record with a mark of 10-1, and she then took away the outdoor mark with an 11-4.25 vault in June of 2015 at a USATF international competition.

Ellis came out smoking in her freshman year of 2016, running up four clearances of 12 feet or over indoors including a 12-4 at Rochester Relays in early January for the still-standing frosh record. She captured her first States title in Cornell's Barton Hall with a 12-3 vault, her fifth over 12. During her outdoor season she again crushed the frosh record by topping 12-8.

Ellis's sophomore year saw her break the state class record four times, starting in mid January at 12-7, breaking the barrier by reaching 13-1 in mid February, nabbing a second States title with a 13-0 vault, and finally recording the still-standing mark of 13-2.25 while finishing 3rd at NBNI, the best placement by an NY athlete in nine years. Outdoors during a much quieter season for her, Ellis soared to a new and still-standing state record of 13-4 at the Section 5 State Qualifier meet, but a week later she was well off her usual mark and finished 7th at States.

A time of change came for Ellis by her junior year. Having worked with Suhr Sports to refine her technique for a number of years, some conflicts of time, focus, and goals had arisen for her and like a number of other top athletes she decided to split from her school's program and compete in regional meets as an unattached performer. In the midst of posting a number of big vaults in upstate NY and Canada during January 2018 that topped off at 13-7.5, she also made a historic trip to the University of Akron Open and flew to a new national junior class record of 14-1.25, just three-quarters of an inch below Saxer's overall indoor state record.

For the most part, Ellis's junior year indoor season ended off her competitions in high school. As a member of the Penn State track team, she reached a collegiate high of 13-5.25 during the 2021 indoor season.

While Ellis was soaring to astronomical heights, a number of other vaulters were making their marks. Bethany Cripps of Central Square trained at the Empire Pole Vault facility in the Syracuse area and worked her way up after starting at 9 feet in her freshman year in 2013. After placing 4th behind Ellis at indoor States at 12-0 as a senior in 2016, Cripps added another half-foot to her vaults in the outdoor season and finished of with a 12-8 winning mark at outdoor States. She went on to compete for Ithaca College and twice qualified for NCAA D3 Nationals during her freshman year.

Another vaulter who moved steadily upward after reaching 9 feet as a freshman to capture the States outdoor championship in her senior year was Lansing's Emily Gallagher. After finishing 5th behind Ellis at indoor States in 2017, Gallagher used a big PR of 12-10 to win the outdoor title. Gallagher's teammate Miya Kuramoto replicated a 3rd at 2017 indoor States with a 3rd at 12-3 at outdoor States to provide a little Bobcat camaraderie. Both trained at the local Tompkins County Pole Vault Club run by Lansing coach Bob Scheffler.

Frequently in the running for States championships through her 2017 senior season was part-time hurdler Amanda McNelis of Commack. Training at Warehouse Vault Club under Jim Henderson on Long Island, McNelis took the silver medal twice at States in 2017 and posted a top mark of 12-6 for her career.

Averill Park's Alana Carroll did a lot lot more than make pre-attempt handstands famous throughout NY, and yes, she spent many years as a gymnast. The 2018 graduate and another denizen of the HVFC Barn, Carroll first started qualifying for States meets as a freshman and then gained attention during her sophomore year when she placed 1st in the NBNI Emerging Elite competition with a 12-4.75 height that would have placed her in the top 10 in the Championship group.

After taking 2nd to Cripps at the 2016 outdoor States, she placed 3rd and 4th at indoor and outdoor States in 2017 as a junior. But at the Section 2 State Qualifiers in June, Carroll reached a PR of 13-0.

Like McNelis balancing her passion for the hurdles with her PV specialty, Carroll put it all together in her senior year. Regularly hitting the 13+ foot mark, Carroll took the wins indoors at many big meets before setting a PR of 13-6 at States and then going to 13-2.25 for 3rd at NBNI. Outdoors she was even better, hitting 13-6 early in the season, taking the States title at 13-0, and then capturing the national title with a best of 13-6.25. She then headed off to vault for Harvard.

Carroll's win at NBNO was the first national title for an NY girl's PVer in 13 years. The next one would come a lot sooner.

Skying to the Present

A battle for the ages was shaping up following Carroll's graduation in 2018. She and Ellis had reset the aspirational bar for NY's vaulting crew. Two athletes in particular were well-equipped to follow in her footsteps.

Kaeli Thompson of Warwick Valley was a clubmate of Carroll's at the HVFC Barn. Something of a points machine for the Wildcats outside of the PV, Thompson competed in many different events but was especially strong in the long jump, triple jump and high hurdles. After vaulting up to 10-6 in the summer following her freshman year, she started regularly hitting the 11+ foot range in her sophomore year when she placed 7th at indoor States and 5th outdoors.

Junior year in 2018 found Thompson hitting 13-2.25 for a 5th at NBNI after finishing 3rd at indoor States and then placing 2nd behind Carroll at outdoors States with a 13-0 vault before taking 6th at NBNO.

Senior year in 2019 saw Thompson sky over 13 feet ten times indoors, but though a 13-4 at Eastern States pushed her really high in the national rankings, she still missed out on a States title after taking 2nd with a 13-0 jump. A week later at NBNI everything fell into place as she claimed the national championship with a PR of 13-6.25. During the outdoor season in March Thompson ventured down to Texas where the spring track was well underway and hit 13-6 for an indoor-leftover-outdoor-high of 13-6. This time she would march on to claim her first outdoor States title before finishing 3rd at 13-5 at NBNO.

Thompson's exploits happened at the same time that a vaulter from out in Section 6 was hitting the high times. Orchard Park's Leah Pasqualetti has results on MileSplit that begin in early May of her 7th grade outdoor season in the 200m and 400m events. For an athlete of small stature and soft voice but a megatonage of tenacity, a move into the PV was a good step, even though 7-6 was a tops in 2015. And whatever Pasqualetti lacked in height, she more than made up for with the speed of her sprinter's charge down the runway that she converted into upward momentum toward the bar.

With no indoor season available until her junior year, Pasqualetti still found room to improve outdoors to 10-10 as an 8th grader while putting in a lot of time in the hurdles. She hit 11-0 in her freshman outdoor season before everything started coming together for her in 2018 when she began competing in both the indoor and outdoor seasons.

A member of the PVP training crew run by Karmen Auble's dad Mike, Pasqualetti notched a number of 12 foot jumps during her sophomore indoor season before placing 2nd to Carroll at States at a PR of 12-9. She was also a member of the school-record-setting 4x200m team that won at the Section 5 State Qualifier. Her outdoor season ended with a 4th at States with a 12-6 season's best.

Indoors in 2019 Pasqualetti hit 12-7 in mid February and then won a terrific battle with Thompson at States after trailing going into the final attempted height of 13-3. Pasqualetti hit her 8-inch PR on her first attempt. A week later at NBIN she went nearly as high at 13-2.25 to finish 5th on misses while Thompson captured the national championship at 13-6. During the outdoors season Pasqualetti lived mainly in the 12+ foot range, and this time she lost the States duel to Thompson when she went out at 12-6. But the silver-or-or-maybe-bronze lning on a silver medal day was that she got to team up on the Jenna Crean-led 4x100m squad to earn 3rd place in the championship race. At NBNO, Pasqualetti finished 10th at 12-6.5, but a month later at the USATF Junior Olympic regional, she took the win with her first 13+ outdoor vault at 13-1.5.

During her senior year in 2020, Pasqualetti's towered above the competition in state and waged a one-upsmanship contest on the national level with HS pro athlete Chloe Cunliffe of Seattle.  But it was a time that the Covid-19 pandemic would wipe away the national championships and eliminate the outdoor season except for a few late season showcase events.

Pasqualetti made the most of what she was given, first setting a state record of 14-3 at the Groundhog Classic at Houghton College on February 1, and then winning a week later at the Millrose Games at 13-7.5 and at Eastern States at 13-8 a little later. Her final win in an unbeaten 12-meet season was at States which she took comfortably at 13-0 on March 7. Within days the world of sports was shutting down in response to Covid, and NBNI was  cancelled.

The 2020 state outdoor track-and-field season was eliminated but Pasqualetti continued her workouts at the Aubles' PVP facility while quarantining there. After learning about a big PV competition that was to be held in Southern California in late June, she signed up and took a three-stop flight west to the Stars and Stripes Big Red Barn meet to compete against the top-ranked vaulter in the nation, the local girl Paige Sommers. Both vaulters had left the rest of the field far behind on the evening of June 26 when they cleared 14-1.75, a PR for Pasqualetti. They then had the bar raised to 14-8.25 to take aim at Cunliffe's 14-8 outdoor record. Pasqualetti made the height on her first try to set a national mark and take the win as Sommers bowed out. Three tries at 15-0 ended the night.

Pasqualetti had at least one more competition during the summer before heading on to Kent State where she has gone over 14 indoors and currently is on the verge of doing the same outdoors.

In the most recent 2020-21 T&F year, there have been far fewer chances to be involved in meets. Despite the pandemic-time hurdles, a number of PVers around the state have risen to the challenge and look well set to chase after some of the laurels that Ellis, Carroll, Thompson, and Pasqualetti have won in recent years. And as usual, the prominent training centers have provided the proving grounds for improvement.

In an odd twist, Southwestern's Cassidy Allen has used the times of less contests during her senior year to soar from the 10-6 best as a junior to much higher heights while training at PVP. Her top officially indoor mark of 12-6 was set in January at an open meet for high-schoolers in Ohio, but back in October 2020 she kicked off her outdoor recordings when she hit 13-6 at a meet hosted by PVP. Outdoors in the spring the heights were in the same territory as she hit 13-4 at CCAA in June and then inched up to 13-6 later at Section 6 Class C.

Hilton junior Laura Reigle (in Rockback shirt)) has been putting up big numbers ever since her 8th grade outdoor season in 2018 when she twice posted state class records on her way to a 7th place 11-6 at States. After climbing a little higher to 11-9 bests in her sophomore indoor and outdoor seasons, she leaped to 12-9 at indoor States for 2nd behind Pasqualetti in March 2020 before the action ended. Though Reigle had no competitions in her 2020 outdoor season, she first added a 1.25 inches to her PR during the 2021 indoor season before bursting up to 13-0.25 to capture the Ocean Breeze Elite meet title in mid March. Outdoors she is again excelling and topped 13-1 by the beginning of June

Two other current juniors from out on Long Island have been setting themselves up for big things in the future. Marisa D'Angelo of St. Anthony's topped 11-8 as a sophomore indoors in 2020 and finished 4th at States at 11-6. During the 2021 indoor season she was the CHSAA champion and smashed the league record by going to 13-0 to break Amy Linnen's 21-year-old Long Island record by 2 inches. Her outdoor season opened in March down at the NSAF Meet of Champions in Myrtle Beach, SC where she went to 11-11.75, then to 12-6 to win NY Relays, and there's still more action to come.

Syosset junior Samantha Smith travels over to HVFC to train. A 12-1.5 vault at one of the Barn's series of contests in February put her among the top performers with the potential to climb high in the next few seasons and is eying 12 feet for June.

The Barn is also highly involved with the next generation of high flyers, a couple of whom have broken state records for their age classes already.

Rachel Venter of Warwick Valley broke the 7th grade record three times on her way to a best of 10-0 while placing 4th at Section 9 State Qualifiers at the end of February in 2020. During a fairly full slate of club competitions in the region during the summer of 2020, Venter also broke the 7th grade outdoor record three times on the way to 10-6 in August. In an extended 8th grade indoor season of 11 events starting in October, she took away the 8th grade state record from a club mate with a height of 11-1 in her first meet, and she then was consistently at 10+ the rest of the way through April 2021. At 11-6.5 by early June this year, clearly there will be more to report for Venter in the future.

The HVFC club member whose 8th grade record Venter broke is Lily Beattie of Warwick Valley, already a longtime veteran as she entered her outdoor freshman season in the spring of 2021. Beattie broke the class record in 2020 three times on her way to a PR of 11-0 for 4th place at States, a height that Venter topped by an inch this year. Though Beattie did not have an outdoor season in 2020, her 2021 indoor season like Smith's featured a long series of club meets at the Barn and hit a high point with a 12-0 vault for 2nd at the Ocean Breeze Elite meet in mid February. Up to 11-9 by June, again, there is a lot more to be written here before Beattie graduates in 2024.

There are many other junior and senior vaulters who cleared 11 feet during 2021. A few other 8th and 9th graders have topped 9 feet and could be raising the bar high a little further down the way. As of mid June, twenty pole vaulters had gone at least to 11-0.  The fourteen other vaulters besides the ones mentioned above who have gone 11+ during the season include Starpoint's Alyssa Armitage at 12-3  and Monroe-Woodbury's Alicia Johnson at 12-1, plus such 11-something footers as Johnstown's Mary Austin, Half Hollow Hills West's Ashley Brule,  Washingtonville's Sophie Mirecki, Central Square's Evelyn Dolce, James O'Neill's Ellie Lemler, Broadalbin-Perth's Erica Lin, Bronxville's Jules Gravier, Shenendehowa's Maia Cacchione, Clarkstown South's Madison Chalfin, Lansing's Kiara Tornusciolo, Hilton's Cara Pellechia, Evelyn's twin Ella Dolce of Central Square, and Rosie Morse of Trumansburg..

It's been a long and winding road up to the dizzying heights of today for New York's girls pole vaulters starting with the pioneers from back in the 1980s who made early forays into the not-so-welcoming PV scene in high school track and field. But the girls have battled on in a really tough sport with huge assistance from devoted PV training centers and a band of supportive HS coaches.

Will some future state PVer be mirroring Leah Pasqualetti and taking her shot at breaking the 15 foot barrier? It might be time soon to start that rhythmic clapping for another attempt at a state and national record.

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