CMS girls pole vault to top

Talk about raising the bar.

Three budding student-athletes from Cody – Emily Larsen, Riley Welch and Grace Shaffer – are among the most prolific young pole vaulters in America.

Their head coach, Ashley Trudo, reminds them they’re outstanding student-athletes, but at the same time, their brilliant start will be fleeting.

“I tell them, ‘You three amigos are so good,’” Trudo said. “But I also tell them they have to work, work, work because there’s always someone better than you waiting to pass you if you let up.”

Larsen, a 12-year-old Cody Middle School seventh-grader, is officially the top vaulter in the U.S. in her age group by virtue of her vault of 7 feet, 6 inches at the Burlington Middle School Invitational last spring.

Welch, also a seventh-grader, vaulted 7 feet at the same meet to earn the No. 2 spot in the rankings.

To up the ante, Shaffer – a CMS sixth-grader whose father Scott Shaffer is an assistant coach of the CHS track team – vaulted 8 feet in the age 10-11 group at the Big Sky Invitational in Billings.

“Grace has vaulted since she was little,” said Scott, a former pole vaulter for Arkansas State University.

“She trained on broomsticks. The best part of all of this is she likes it. No one makes her do this. On the track I’m her coach, not her dad. But coach lets me participate and I appreciate that.”

The July 19 vault broke the invitational’s record for 10- and 11-year-olds by a foot and made Shaffer No. 1 in the nation for her age group. She turns 12 on Oct. 27.

“I like to vault,” Grace said. “It’s so fun learning new stuff.”

Shaffer’s accomplishment has not yet been officially recorded by, the website that tracks student-athlete performances nationally for colleges seeking to recruit track and field athletes.

“Grace tries it and she does it,” Trudo said. “She’s such a hard worker. She’s the last one off the track. Her work ethic is: ‘I’m ready to go.’ ”

Grace, who relaxes by playing with her dogs Percephone and Hercules and watching “Scream” movies with her older sister Maggie, is helped by the fact she has been surrounded by track and field her entire life, her coach says.

“Grace wants to make her dad proud and she does, especially with his high standards,” Trudo said. “She has a lot to live up to, but she is exceeding expectations. It helps that coach Shaffer does not put pressure on her.”

It is unusual for any middle school girls to vault higher than 7 feet. Three high achievers from the same town is unheard of.

“It is rare for fifth- and sixth-graders to even be pole vaulting, let alone jumping around 8 feet,” said Jennifer Jo Ashcroft, an assistant coach at California Polytechnic State in San Luis Obispo, Calif. – one of the nation’s best women’s track programs.

Shaffer, who also plays soccer and basketball and wants one day to be on the University of Wyoming track team, made her 8-foot vault after she had finished her fifth-grade year at Eastside School, where her favorite subjects were reading and writing.

Larsen says she eats salads and chicken to make herself healthy. She credits her strong upper body for her success as a pole vaulter.

“Right now she is enjoying the sport and learning the basics,” Trudo said. “She is officially No. 1 in the country and it’s because of her determination.

“She can run and she is tough. She is successful also because she has a fast twitch muscle. When she gets more lower-body strength she is going to be even more amazing.”

Her mother, Alena Larsen, is a CMS mathematics teacher. The family moved to Cody six years ago from Billings.

“She got it in her head she wanted to try this and here we are,” Alena said. “I am happy for her success. I have high expectations for her. I’m encouraging her to do what she wants to do if she loves it.”

Larsen, who roughhouses at home with her dogs Griz, Sonya and Ivy, enjoys learning about math, science and social studies, and one day hopes to be a dentist.

She aspires to go to Stanford. For now, though, she is enjoying Cody.

“I like living in a small town and I do have a lot of friends, so … yay,” Larsen said.

When she is not practicing pole vaulting, she plays softball, basketball and volleyball and runs cross country.

“She is coachable,” Trudo said. “To improve, she needs to learn to run on the balls of her feet instead of her heels.”

Welch’s official record is her 7-foot vault at Burlington, which ranks her second in the 12-13-year-old age goup, but she – like Shaffer – vaulted 8 feet at Big Sky.

That means when the rankings are updated, Welch will pass her teammate Larsen to be ranked No. 1 in her category.

“I love the thrill of the vault,” said Welch, a straight-A student who really likes algebra.

“When coach says you know you can do it, you know you can. Then I just do it.”

Welch plays volleyball and basketball and enjoys tap and jazz dancing, as well as ballet.

“I told my daughter ‘I think you should do this and I think you will be really good at it’ – and she is,” her mother Lori Welch said.

Welch’s coach sees “tremendous potential” for the student-athlete who hopes one day to vault for Brigham Young.

“Her natural ability and attitude are great and she always has a smile on her face,” Trudo said. “Riley soaks it in when a coach talks. The small things matter to her. What’s not to like? Riley is a golden nugget.”

Welch, who hasn’t decided whether she wants to be a pastry chef or a math teacher, acknowledges that pole vaulting isn’t easy.

“It’s hard work,” she said. “But for me, hard work is fun.”



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