NEW ORLEANS – Based on the Chinese Zodiac, we’re approaching the end of the Year of the Horse in mid-February.
Based on the collegiate record books, we’ve only just begun the Year of the Vault.
Akron’s Shawn Barber leapt into the men’s pole vault record books the first two weekends of January with multiple 19-foot vaults – including an unattached mark that surpassed the collegiate record – but Arkansas’ Sandi Morris set the stage last weekend for an intriguing women’s pole vault season with three failed attempts at the collegiate record 15-1 (4.60m).
Little did anyone know at the time how interesting the following weekend – this Friday and yesterday – would prove in the pole vault. Here’s a hint:
The woman whose record Morris took shots at last weekend? Defending indoor national champion Kaitlin Petrillose of Texas. Guess who Morris went head-to-head with late Friday evening?
On paper, Petrillose. But the defending indoor champ instead unfortunately duplicated her outdoor NCAA Championships no-height performance (she attempted to come in at 13-6½, 4.13m but missed all three jumps), leaving Morris with the stage all to herself. And did she ever perform.
Entering the competition after all other vaulters had bowed out, Morris notched second-attempt clearances at both 14-1¼ (4.30m) and 14-7¼ (4.45m). For the second weekend in a row, she then moved the bar up to 15-1½ (4.61m) to once more attempt a height one centimeter better than the collegiate record – with record-holder Petrilose watching on.
First attempt, miss. Second attempt, miss.
She charged down the runway for her third attempt, launched herself into the air, and grazed the crossbar as she contorted her body over it. The bar bounced, and bounced again, as she fell to the mat, but ultimately it stayed up and the collegiate record was hers, as was the No. 9 mark on the all-time U.S. indoor list.
She called it a night, embraced her teammates and got a congratulatory passing-of-the-torch hug from Petrillose.
No one could have imagined how soon Morris herself would have to pass the torch.
Fast forward less than 24 hours and one state to the west. The scene: the Texas A&M Aggie Team Invitational early Saturday afternoon in College Station, Texas.
The principal actor in this scene? Demi Payne of Stephen F. Austin, the daughter of 19-foot pole vaulter and Baylor All-American Bill Payne, competing in just her second meet in a Stephen F. Austin uniform. Payne, who became a mother in the fall of 2013, had vaulted 14-1¼ (4.30m) at Akron in her first meet a week ago.
[Ed. Note – She also cleared 14-9¼ (4.50m) at the Texas Vault Expo two weekends ago to defeat Petrillose, though the mark doesn’t count for qualifying because it wasn’t contested at a complete track & field meet.]
Like Morris, she entered the field once everyone else had left it. She attempted identical heights, but, on her very first tries, successfully negotiated both 14-1¼ (4.30m) and 14-7¼ (4.45m). Next up was 15-2¼ (4.63m) – two centimeters better than Morris’ final historic mark just a day earlier.
And just like the two attempts prior, she was up and over – brushing the bar ever so slightly – on her first trip down the runway. Just like that, the collegiate record was hers. Just like that, she vaulted into the No. 8 spot on the all-time U.S. indoor list. Just like that, she joined her dad, who is No. 3 on the all-time outdoor collegiate list, in the track & field record book.
Just like that, for the woman who had ended her time as a Kansas Jayhawk during the 2013 indoor season with a no-height performance at the NCAA Championships and a collegiate career-best of 13-11¼ (4.25m) and had since become a mother.
Having not yet missed to that point, she once more raised the bar to 15-3 (4.65m). Her magical run ended there, missing her next three attempts.
As the tweet at the beginning of the article stated, there had only been one 15-foot indoor women’s pole vaulter in the first 17 years as an NCAA-sanctioned event. There were two over a 17-hour span this weekend.
All three – Payne, Morris and Petrillose – are active and will be challenging for the NCAA title.
The Year of the Vault has just begun.
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