Lucas Ball has been a pole vaulter for only three years, but he’s packed a lot of success into that brief period.
Then again, he’s packed a lot of pole vaulting into that time, as well.
Ball, a sophomore at Elyria Catholic, won a middle school state title at South Amherst, then became the first EC boy to make state in the event when he won the Division II regional title with a school-record vault of 13 feet, 6 inches. That broke Randy Lauer’s school record of 13-5 set in 1968.
Ball equaled the 13-6 mark a week later at the state meet at Ohio State, where he finished 10th.
While Ball is no doubt a quick study, his progress has come about thanks to a lot of hard work. During the outdoor track season he trains at the high school, but the remainder of the year he trains at Altitude Headquarters in Bellevue.
He’s been training year-round at Bellevue since eighth grade.
“We started going to Bellevue when my dad and I first figured that I had potential,” Ball said. “I’m happy for where I’m at right now, but the key moving forward will be learning to vault on the bigger poles.”
Ball cleared 11-0 as a seventh grader and finished fifth at nationals in North Carolina. As an eighth-grader he improved enough to clear 12-9.
This season’s No. 1 goal is conquering the 14-foot barrier.
“We got on our bigger poles today,” Ball said two weeks ago at the Division II-III state indoor meet at the University of Akron. “We flew right through them, which means we’re making progress. I’ve switched to a Pacer 15-foot, 175-pound carbon-fiber pole. I had been using a UCS 14-7, 180-pound fiberglass pole. The carbon-fiber pole gives or allows you a higher grip up at the top of the pole and gives you more lift at the top.”
Ball finished eighth in the indoor meet, again clearing 13-6 and earning a spot on the awards platform (top eight). He came up just short in three tries at 13-9.
The state indoor meet was Ball’s fourth of the season. He wasn’t taking it easy, he just happened to have been otherwise occupied, winning a Division III sectional wrestling championship at 170 pounds. He also placed sixth at the district tournament and was a state alternate.
But he’s already made up his mind that this was his final season on the mats. Ball wants to focus his efforts exclusively on the pole vault.
He’s also looking to break out sooner than later. He cleared 13-6 two other times this winter, once at Findlay and once at Oberlin.
“We’re overlapping seasons with track and wrestling trying to train for the indoors,” said Bill Ball, Lucas’ dad and event coach. “With wrestling, it made it tough to train. He’s getting up there now and next year is very important. Colleges are going to start knocking on the door.”
Lucas understands the importance of preparation. His brother, Zac, a 2010 Firelands graduate, was a two-time Division II state discus qualifier in high school and was sixth at state as a senior. Zac now throws for Ashland University, where he barely missed qualifying for indoor nationals this winter.
Lucas still plans to play football for Elyria Catholic.
“He knows now that he needs to focus on two sports and try to improve from there,” said Bill Ball, a Keystone graduate and a former pole vaulter. “I told my wife back when Lucas was in seventh grade, we’re on to something here. This is no joke. Jumping 11-foot in the seventh grade — most high school kids don’t jump 11-foot.”
While the progress has been steady, Bill Ball knows there’s a long way to go. Making sure Lucas understands that is key.
“I can see he has a passion for it because he gets upset when he doesn’t make heights,” Bill Ball said. “That’s the athlete in him wanting more.
“You’re putting so many things together from the time of the start of the run to the finish of the vault. There are so many things that happen so fast. You try to concentrate on what your weaknesses are and work from there as you get better.
“We really focused on his run last year, just trying to keep him taller and more powerful in the run. It’s about the consistency, so you get the same takeoff every time. He’s now out about 100 feet (on his approach). Last year, it was probably in the 70-foot range.
“Now we’re working on the plant, which is the other half of the vault. It’s the most important part besides the run.”
By Paul Heyse