FAIRBURY — All Kassadee Ifft wanted from a college was a chance to soar.
The Prairie Central High School pole vaulter hopes to do that in multiple ways now that she has signed a national letter of intent with the University of Notre Dame.
“For starters, they have a really amazing coach (Jim Garnham),” Ifft said. “Their team of jumpers is really great. They have a lot of support for their athletic programs.
“Also, their education is amazing. I’m thinking I want to major in Spanish and biology. When I visited, I really connected with a lot of the teachers I met.”
Ifft also considered Nebraska, Wake Forest and Hillsdale College.
“It was a tough decision,” she said. “They all have great programs.”
Ifft’s personal best of 12 feet, 10 inches ranks third in Pantagraph area history. Only two Notre Dame athletes have gone higher, including school record holder Mary Saxer (14-1¼).
A member of the Normal-based Flying Dragons Pole Vault Club, Ifft is the reigning Class 2A state champion. The Fairbury resident placed second in the state as a sophomore and third as a freshman.
“Her biggest asset is her determination,” said Flying Dragons coach Mike Cockerham. “She has this will to be the best. That you can’t coach.”
Prairie Central coach Jason Welch agrees.
“She will not quit until she gets to that level that she wants to be,” he said. “She’s determined and she’s willing to work, which is even better. She’s coachable, which is awesome.”
At 5-foot-4, Ifft is shorter than most elite vaulters, but makes up for it with speed.
“In the pole vault, the faster you go, the higher you jump,” she said. “I’ve really been blessed to have quite a bit of speed.
“I believe my mentality is an asset as well. The pole vault is a very mental sport.”
Ifft developed a mental block while opening her sophomore season. She became scared of the pole, but her coach made her stay at practice and take 10 consecutive jumps.
“Ever since he made me stay, I have never been afraid of a pole,” she said.
Ifft has excelled despite battling chronic shin splints.
“Most kids would fold,” Cockerham said. “It goes back to the old saying: how bad do you want it?”
When asked if she considered quitting, Ifft was emphatic.
“I could never ever, ever give up pole vaulting,” she said. “I would rather jump on two broken legs than not have pole vaulting be a part of my life.
“It has opened so many doors for me. I have met so many amazing people.”
Among the people Ifft met at a training camp in Boston last week was 2000 Olympic gold medalist Stacy Dragila.
“That was an amazing experience,” said Ifft, who credits her success to the Flying Dragons, a club she joined in seventh grade. “Those people who are part of the club, it’s like a family there. With the pole vault club you have every generation of vaulters from young all the way up to seniors in high school and sometimes past that.
“You have the knowledge there; people who have already gone through the recruitment process. Going into college, I’m not going in blind because I know what everybody else has been through.”
Ifft, one of seven siblings — four of whom vault— credits her family for helping her take flight. Now that she’s landed at Notre Dame, the sky is the limit.