There are some meets where Ashwaubenon pole-vaulting coach Don Penza looks at Alex Flucke and sees nothing but sheer concentration.
The noise softens. The crowd around the Jaguars junior disappears. Her only focus fixed on the crossbar hovering in the sky more than 40 meters away.
That’s when Penza knows anything is possible.
Last year’s WIAA Division 1 state track and field meet was one of those days for Flucke, who joined her older sister, Melissa, as one of only four girls in Ashwaubenon history to capture a D1 state pole-vaulting title.
Along with sophomore Rachael Whitefield, Flucke is again carrying the torch this season for a Jaguars program that’s captured seven of a possible 11 D1 state pole-vaulting titles since the WIAA began sponsoring the girls event in 2001.
Now a high jumper at the University of Minnesota, Melissa won a pair of state titles in the event in 2008 and 2009 before Alex added her name to the history books with a 12-foot vault in La Crosse last season.
The pressures involved with being one of the area’s four former state champions coming into this season haven’t fazed Flucke, who picked right up where she left off this season behind a 12-1 vault at last week’s Fox River Classic Conference West Division indoor meet.
“It’s different, but I kind of felt like I always had (some pressure) coming from Ashwaubenon because it’s like, ‘Oh that’s Flucke’s little sister,'” Flucke said. “It’s not much different, but because I’m older, it is a little weird (being a leader) with the younger girls around now.”
One of those girls is Whitefield, who has surpassed her personal-best vault from last year (9-6) with a 10-3 performance at the FRCC West Division meet.
The two weren’t very familiar with each other before high school, but have become fast friends competing together in the pole vault. Throughout the offseason, the two worked out together with Flucke even joining the House of Speed with Whitefield to build strength for the upcoming year.
The difference has been seen during the early portion of this season as both girls have taken steps toward achieving their long-term goals — Flucke’s being to shatter the D1 state meet record of 12-6, which former Jaguars standout Liza Lewis set in 2003, and Whitefield vying to become the ninth girl in school history to qualify for state in the pole vault.
“It’s nice having someone, who is really good, to watch,” said Whitefield, a sectional qualifier last season. “The thing that’s nice about it is you can only get better and there’s so many heights to keep you going. I like to strive for bigger things.”
The next height on Flucke’s radar is 13 feet — a mark that’s only been surpassed once in state history when Madison Memorial’s Jenny Soceka accomplished the feat at the Wisconsin Track and Field indoor meet in 2005.
Flucke reset the school record at 12-7 after last year’s Bay Port sectional, but missed on three attempts to break Lewis’ record at the state meet. She’s been starting her vaults at 11 feet this season in hopes of creeping closer to that mark.
“I was talking to Penza after and I said, ‘I think 12-7 is the curse, so we need to go right to 13,'” said Flucke. “If it works out and everything is in play, we’re not doing 12-7, we’re going right to 13.”
Based on what he’s seen, Penza believes she has the talent and technique to do it, but he still tempers expectations as it’s easy to forget Flucke’s only a junior.
“I hope she goes over 13 — she won’t say what she wants to do — but you have to do everything right,” said Penza, who’s had at least one state qualifier in the girls pole vault each year since 2001.
“Your ability might get you to 11-6, but after that you have to start doing things right. She’s becoming a technician now and toward the end of the year that’s what we’re shooting for — for her to be the best.”
By: Weston Hodkiewicz