Area trio looking to vault to the top at state track and field meet

Staring at a bar placed more than 13 feet in the air can be unnerving enough most times.

Toss in some expected jitters, the biggest stage of the season and having to execute a precise routine of movements, and performing in the pole vault at the State Track and Field Championships can be more overwhelming than most events.

Three area athletes, though, have managed to maintain their composure through district and regional meets to qualify for this week’s state meet at Ohio State University’s Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.

For one of them, Fairless junior Allyson Simmons, the state meet is becoming somewhat routine, as much as the biggest meet of the season can be considered routine. This is Simmons’ third trip to the Division II state finals. She failed to place as a freshman, but reached the podium by finishing seventh last year.

Perry’s Andrew Vincent, a junior, and Fairless sophomore Clayton Guest will each be making their initial appearances at the state meet. Guest will compete Friday at 9:30 a.m., while Simmons will jump Saturday at 9 a.m. Vincent’s competition begins at noon Saturday.

While Simmons returns to state with two years experience under her belt, she also enters with the best vault this season of any competitor in the Division II field. That came when Simmons smashed her own Stark County record with a vault of 12 feet, 4 inches at the Stark County Championships.

That added distinction hasn’t changed Simmons’ approach.

“It doesn’t really affect me that much. I have to keep my head small and can’t let it get big,” she said. “I can’t get too hyped up and I have to stay humble.”

Darren Ehmer, who serves as Perry’s pole vault coach but also works closely with Simmons, knows it doesn’t take much to throw even the best vaulters off their games. While Simmons has the potential to surpass her record jump, that’s hardly the priority this weekend.

“We’re not worried about how high she can jump. We’re focused on how high she does jump,” Ehmer said. “She is number one going in and there is that added pressure, and I’m doing my best to take that pressure off her. She’s had a great season, and her entire career does not hinge on this one day.

“In an event like the vault, a lot can go wrong if you’re too excited or too nervous or somehow distracted. That’s what we’re trying to avoid.”

However, Ehmer believes Simmons is more prepared this year to handle the increased scrutiny that comes with success. It’s part of the mental toughness that’s required in an event that comes with built-in danger.

“Allyson has the physical tools, she has the strength and the speed it takes to be a vaulter,” Ehmer said. “Mentally, that’s where she really gains her edge because of her work ethic and the way she processes and deals with the fear of the vault.

“Any vaulter who tells you they’re not afraid, they’re not really being honest with you. There’s a lot of fear to deal with, it’s all about how you process it. .. She’s also has to deal with the fear of failure now that she’s the one to beat. She’s handling that pretty well. A lot of times that can wear on a young person.”

That’s something that Guest and Vincent are becoming more adept at dealing with as well.

For Guest, his success has also been tied to regaining some of his health following offseason surgery. While he’s not 100 percent, the sophomore rose to the occasion at last week’s regional meet at Bedford, where his 12-9 vault topped his previous best by more than a foot.

“I had surgery in December and I’ve been having a really, really hard time recently,” Guest said. “I don’t know what it was about regionals, but I just went out there and tried my hardest and got the last spot. I did really surprise myself with how high I went, though.”

Despite his relative youth and inexperience, Guest’s regional performance has Fairless coach Logan Moritz excited about his potential at the state meet.

“It’s kind of amazing the progress he’s made in basically the last three weeks. We were at the PAC meet and we ran out of sticks for him,” Moritz said. “It’s entirely feasible for him to get over 13-feet. The training is there, the base is there and we established all his technique as a freshman, but because of his injuries, we’ve had inconsistent practices.

“You know it’s there in his mind, and you know his muscles are trained for it, so if it clicks then look out, it’s going to be fun.”

Vincent has already dealt with pressure that should have him prepared for the state meet. He needed to match his personal-best vault of 14-4 at the Fitch regional last week to move from sixth to third and secure a state berth.

It was the kind of effort Ehmer has seen from Vincent on a more regular basis this season.

“He was in sixth place because of misses at the regional meet, so if he hadn’t made the 14-4 bar he would’ve finished sixth. That was a clutch jump for him,” Ehmer said. “The biggest change for Andrew this year had been his consistency at the higher bars. He got comfortable being the go-to guy in the event and the guy who expected to win.”

Vincent is doing his best to not let the state environment affect him.

“The key is to keep my composure when I’m down there,” Vincent said. “I’m confident and I’m ready to go down there this year and jump well. I’m just jumping for fun now. I’m going to hope for the best this week.”

Guest Vaulter magazine
Guest Vaulter magazine

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