The pole vault is unlike most other track and field events, and the reason goes beyond the obvious – the poles that are more than twice as tall as the athletes.
As a contest based on clearing heights, just like the high jump, the vault doesn’t often begin with all the competitors participating. The better ones pass on what they consider pedestrian heights and wait until the bar gets raised to more serious levels.
That routine was taken to a bit of an extreme Saturday at the Central Bucks West Relays.
By the time Amanda Benninghoff entered the competition, all but one of the others had exited.
That’s how good Benninghoff is.
The Council Rock South senior, who signed a letter of intent with North Carolina in February, got in the event at 10 feet, 6 inches en route to clearing 12 feet. When Benninghoff joined the fray, only teammate Kate Hirthler remained, and Hirthler failed to clear 10-6. The best anyone else could do was eight feet.
“Most pole vaulters will have, at most, eight good jumps in their legs, so you don’t want to waste it on a low height,” said Ken Worthen, the C.R. South assistant coach who guides the vaulters. “I feel very confident that she can start at 11 feet. She’s started at 11-6 one time.”
On a brisk, windy day at C.B. West, after sitting out about an hour of the competition, Benninghoff still managed some respectable jumps. But her 12-0 best fell short of both her season high, 12-7, and also her personal record, 12-103/4.
Worthen said sitting out the first one to two hours of vaulting isn’t uncommon for Benninghoff.
“And that’s kind of like a downfall,” he said. “She thrives on competition. She thrives on the adrenaline rush. By the time she picks up the pole, it’s hard to rise to the occasion and get yourself pumped up. It’s almost like a practice.
“I wouldn’t say she doesn’t jump well, but usually her best jumps come at the end of the season when there’s somebody out there that’s pretty good.”
Her past backs that up.
As a sophomore, Benninghoff achieved a personal record, 11-6, at the state meet. Last year, in June at the New Balance national meet in Greensboro, N.C., she set another PR. She placed second, behind Kimyanna Rudolph of Indianapolis. Rudolph cleared the same height as Benninghoff but won based on fewer misses.
Benninghoff said the meet “really set me up for college and got me looked at. There were so many college scouts there. It was a really good day to PR.”
She wants to improve that PR to 13 feet this season. Her next crack at that will come Thursday, when she competes in the Penn Relays at Franklin Field.
Benninghoff is seeded fourth in the pole vault, behind girls from Connecticut, Maryland, and Texas. Last year, she placed eighth at Penn.
“She’s extremely determined,” Worthen said. “It’s kind of hard to pinpoint, but there are times you’ll look at her in practice and think that she’s just not focused on what she’s doing. But when she starts a meet, a little switch goes off and it’s like a totally different person out there.”
Benninghoff, 18, didn’t start pole-vaulting until her freshman year. Before that, she had been a gymnast and soccer player and, more recently, a competitive cheerleader.
Worthen, who said most of his pole vaulters have gymnastics backgrounds, started coaching Benninghoff during the winter season three years ago. She took to it quickly.
Her best vault as a freshman was 9-6. She improved that by two feet as a sophomore, and by almost another foot and a half last June.
Pole vaulting is “kind of addicting,” Benninghoff said. “It’s like people say golf is addicting. You get one good jump, and you just keep going back for it. You always just want to go for that one day that you’re going to get lucky and do really well.”