DRESDEN — Jade Hawkins learned to pole vault more than two years ago.
The Tri-Valley senior, who has come a long way in a short time, will compete against 45 other participants in the pole vault during the USA National Junior Olympics on Friday at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, N.C.
She joins Zanesville senior-to-be Zak Antonetz, who also qualified for the event from the same regional.
Hawkins worked her way to nationals by winning the district, then tying for first in the regional two weeks ago.
“I didn’t think I would be here and competing with the best people in America,” she said.
Hawkins had plenty of success during her junior season, earning the Muskingum Valley League title with a height of 10 feet and 6 inches.
She then placed second at the Division I district meet, tied for third at the regional and tied for eighth at the state meet to earn All-Ohio status. She cleared 11 feet at all three postseason meets.
Hawkins credited her ability to pick up the sport quickly to her background.
“I’ve done gymnastics, and I run sprints,” she said. “Pole vaulting is about timing and technique. Timing is a part of gymnastics, and it’s helped me have success.”
Hawkins and Antonetz train with Dave Garcia, who coaches vaulters at the Buckeye Pole Vault Academy in Columbus. Garcia has more than 30 years of experience and was a volunteer pole vaulting coach with Ohio State University from 2004-09.
Garcia also coached at Toledo, Michigan, Ohio Wesleyan and Otterbein universities.
“He really helps me out a lot,” Antonetz said. “We do gymnastics and lift weights, all kinds of different stuff. Basically, once you get off the ground it’s all gymnastics, being inverted and turning, all the body movement you make in mid-air are all gymnastic moves.”
Hawkins said she practices four or five days a week.
“Practice goes about hour and a half, two hours,” Hawkins said. “I do certain drills, and we work on the mental part. (Garcia) understands the spirit of competing and the type of mindset you need going into a meet.”
Hawkins has been one of the top vaulters in nearly event meet she has competed in recently. However, her goal is setting a personal best and not necessarily about where she finishes.
“I want to clear 12 feet. I’ve cleared that height all week in practice,” said Hawkins, who has vaulted 11 feet and ¼ inch in competition. “It’s different doing that in competition, but I know I can do it.”
Antonetz placed fifth of six competitors at the regional meet and cleared only 10 feet, a height he admits was well below his expectations.
He cleared 12 feet at the Division I district meet at Marietta as a junior, and he has since dropped all of his other events — he also runs mid-distance for the Blue Devils — to focus his efforts on the pole vault.
“I’m hoping to get at least 13 feet and get a new (personal record),” Antonetz said. “My goal down there is pretty much just to get experience for next season and maybe do well enough my senior year to do it in college.”