BALTIMORE — Soon after learning pole vaulter Nicole Jaffke underwent surgery for a bone spur on the inside of her right ankle in late May, Mundelein Mambas track and field club coach Toni Carmichael figured the best course of action would be to shut down the Libertyville senior-to-be for the summer.

But Jaffke chose an entirely different path.

“I wanted to train,” said Jaffke. “And I did, off and on.”

Carmichael worried activity would jeopardize Jaffke’s cross country season in the fall. The coach also thought a hobbled Jaffke at summer track meets, in front of college coaches, wouldn’t be a good thing.

But Jaffke ended up convincing Carmichael to let her run, plant and soar.

“Nicole said to me, ‘Trust me, trust me,’ ” Carmichael said. “Then she told me, ‘I can do this.’ ”

What Jaffke did at last week’s USA Track and Field Junior Olympics at Morgan State University in Baltimore: place seventh in the pole vault (young women’s division) with an 11-foot-4 clearance.

She returned home as an All-American.

“She was fantastic, tough as nails,” Carmichael said.

Jaffke’s journey to Baltimore this summer began with a fourth-place showing at a state meet in Kankakee, followed by a championship effort at a regional meet in Indianapolis.

In Baltimore she was surrounded by Carmichaels.

Three, to be exact.

Toni and Toni’s talented daughters, Carolina and Ofelia. Memphis-bound Carolina is the reigning Class 3A pole vault champion and a 2012 Lake Forest High School graduate. Ofelia (LFHS, ’11), also a track standout, will begin her sophomore year this fall at North Central College in Naperville.

“They all gave me good advice,” said Jaffke, in the running to be either the top or No. 2 runner on Libertyville’s cross country team this fall.

One piece of advice was to use a 13-130 pole rather than a 13-125 pole. The “13” refers to the pole’s length in feet and the other numbers refer to the pole’s weight tolerance.

“I cheered for Nicole during the high school season,” recalled Carolina, who has served as an assistant Mambas coach this summer after opting to take a few months off from competition in order to be strong and injury-free before the start of her college career.

“In the pole vault world we’re all close.”

Five other Mambas left last weekend’s JOs as All-Americans. Bryce Edwards, a sophomore-to-be at Mundelein, achieved such status in a pair of events, taking sixth in the 1500-meter run (4:06.87) and eighth in the 3000 run (9:16.34) in the intermediate division.

Not too long ago he considered himself a … sprinter.

“I remember,” Toni Carmichael said, “when he was in middle school and he kept telling me, ‘I’m a 100 guy and a 200 guy.’ I knew he wasn’t. It’s funny now; at the time he thought running 400 meters was too far for him.”

While running the distance events last weekend, Edwards knew exactly when to accelerate, thanks to Coach Carmichael’s voice. Carmichael’s loud “Put the hammer down!” spurred Edwards.

“When he runs,” Carmichael said, “he attacks and keeps his place.

“College coaches came up to me,” she added, “and asked what year he’s going to be in school. He impressed them.”

Three sophomores-to-be at Vernon Hills — Kiara Schuh, McKenzie Renihan and Samantha Hershman — joined Mundelein sophomore-to-be Katie Stanczykiewicz and sped to All-America honors as Mambas in the 3200 relay (eighth place, 10:45.65). The quartet was ranked 12th in the 13-team intermediate field.

“You know what drives me?” said Toni Carmichael. “Watching athletes from Illinois beat athletes from warm-weather states like California and Texas. It was so nice and rewarding to see us do that.”

Many Mambas: A total of 19 members of the Mundelein Mambas track and field club had qualified to compete at the JOs at Morgan State University. Fifteen made the trip. Lake Zurich junior-to-be Mandy Papke (hurdles, heptathlon) could not compete because she had committed to attend a mission.

Other Mambas efforts: Ryan Bruder (Grayslake North), 10th place, 3000 run (9:24.26), and 14th, 1500 (4:14); Jon Walsh (Woodstock HS, ’12), 10th, pole vault, 14-11; Hayley Becker (Libertyville), 12th, high jump, 5-3; Shannon Skeoch (Vernon Hills), competed in the 1500 run; Shane Williamson (Hawthorn eighth-grader), 12th, 3000, 9:50 (a 20-second drop from his previous personal-best); and Oleg Babin (Vernon Hills), javelin, 131 feet.

Unknown no more: Many folks mispronounced “Mundelein” at last weekend’s JO meet in Baltimore. Some pronounced it “Mun-da-lean.” Toni Carmichael politely corrected them.

by: Bill McLean


Nicola Jaffke
Nicola Jaffke

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