Sparta girls track team well-versed in the pole vault

SPARTA — Three’s been good company for the Sparta girls track and field team in the pole vault this season.

With seniors Madelyn McCallum and Michaela Kaliniak, and sophomore Olivia Kane all showing their abilities, the Spartans have had a memorable season in the pole vault event. It’s not over yet with Kane and McCallum, both advancing to the Division 2 state finals.

Both vaulted at the state finals last season, with McCallum taking fourth at 10-11 and Kane taking eighth at 10-5.

Sparta coach Adam Pfeffer, who has been at the helm for 20-plus seasons, noted that McCallum made her track debut in 2013.

“She was very involved with gymnastics, and we got her out as a junior and she had an outstanding year, placing in the state meet,” Pfeffer said. “That was impressive since she hadn’t vaulted since junior high.”

McCallum won the conference meet this season with an effort of 11-0, while Kane was second at the same height. Kaliniak was fourth at 8-6.

McCallum and Kane are going for the school record at 11-3.

“(McCallum) is very athletic, her gymnastics background certainly helps with that,” Pfeffer said. “She’s extremely strong and athletic. Those are attributes she has that helps with the pole vault.”

“There’s so much relationship between gymnastics and pole vault,” McCallum said. “Having a gymnastics background helps a lot, more than anybody can know. It helps you be aware of your body and know what you need to correct, without a coach.”

At the beginning of the season, McCallum was hurdling but because of injuries, she focused mainly on vaulting.

“I started in seventh grade and have been consistently vaulting at school for two years,” she said. “Making it to state last year and just being involved in the track program in my first year, I was able to get involved in it and it was really fun.”

McCallum wants to get above 11 feet at this year’s state meet and break the school record of 11-3. She cleared 11-6 two summers ago in a non-event meet. Her best in a meet has been 11-0.

“I just need to keep it together and zone in on what I want to do,” she said. “I’ll go to my video and focus, and do what I need to do at practice.”

McCallum notes that she personally vaults differently with her foot plant, although it’s not all that different from other vaulters.

“The form is the form,” she said.

A quad injury sidelined McCallum for two weeks.

“That was a big bummer,” she said, “I wasn’t vaulting up to my expectations that I wanted to in the beginning of the season.”

McCallum is hoping her vaulting career will continue after high school.

“My biggest goal and dream and wish would be to walk on and get red-shirted at Michigan State and pole vault there,” she said. “Hopefully that will work out.”

Kaliniak has vaulted throughout high school.

“She’s a great technician of the vault,” Pfeffer said. “She works really hard. She has the technique, the approach, the work ethic, and doesn’t quite have the athletic, God-given talent some of the other vaulters have. I think her success has come from how hard she’s worked.”

Kaliniak vaulted at a Williamston meet to get into the regionals.

“She’s going to be a great coach someday, let’s put it that way,” Pfeffer said.

Kaliniak’s best event is the vault, while the long jump is probably No. 2, Pfeffer indicated.

She’s vaulted since seventh grade.

“My dad vaulted in high school,” Kaliniak said. “He didn’t do it very long. It intrigued me. Because of the coaching staff at Sparta, it got me even more intrigued.”

Kaliniak indicated she’s made progress every year.

“This year I haven’t progressed height-wise, but I did progress technicality-wise,” she said. “I’m a more technical vaulter. My heights don’t show it yet.”

Her best vault has been 9-6 during her junior season.

Kaliniak’s high school season is done and she’s training for college track at Olivet, where she’ll be pole vaulting.

“It’s a challenge,” she said. “You have to be not only physically strong, but also mentally strong. It’s taken me years to build and I’m still building. I think I’ll do a lot better in college. This year just wasn’t my year.”

To be a successful pole vaulter, “if you’re not mentally strong, you’ll only go to a certain point,” Kaliniak said. “If you’re not technically strong, you’re still only going to go to a certain point.”

The Spartans will have Kane, who also has a gymnastics background, for two more seasons.

“Michaela and Olivia really love to pole vault,” Pfeffer said. “They really enjoyed it. (Kane) runs the hurdles and does a nice job, along with a couple of relays for us at different times.

Kane, who was third in the hurdles at the OK Blue meet, had a best of 10-6 last spring and has increased that by four inches in 2014.

“As she gets more mature and stronger, she’ll keep improving,” Pfeffer said.

“Before the end of my high school career, I’m hoping to at least attempt 12-6,” Kane said. “I’d like to get a decent scholarship for college, to a Division II school.”

Kane has vaulted since the seventh grade. Her dad vaulted in the past. This season, as the weather has finally warmed up, Kane has been able to respond. She attempted 11-4 at Belding on May 19 and said she was “really close to it.”

She was happy making all-state last season and is hoping for more of the same this season.

“I just need to have fun and remember that I can do it and stay positive,” Kane said. “You can’t have a negative mind, but have to be strong mentally.”

Kane also runs cross country.

“I like it, but I’m not a huge fan of it,” she said. “I do it to stay in shape.”

Kane works on pole vaulting during the offseason.

“I vault all summer and all winter,” she said. “You have to practice a lot more than just track season.”

It’s been a special relationship for the three Spartan vaulters.

“Pole vault is a unique event,” Pfeffer said. “You look at how kids interact with other teams, they help each other with their sets and forms, and we share different poles. It’s a camaraderie that you don’t see in any other sport. It’s kind of a unique group.”

The girls agree.

“We’ve gotten closer,” McCallum said. “We try to help each other and root for each other.”

“Our relationship is definitely different,” Kaliniak said. “We’re three very competitive girls. That does butt heads some times, but we are all close. We compete against each other indoors, summer, and outdoor seasons. I’ll probably continue with Maddie in college and maybe eventually Olivia. We’re all good friends, but we’re very competitive people.”

“Michaela really helps me a lot, she helps me with my form and helps me mentally prepare myself for this event,” Kane said. “Maddie makes it fun, entertaining.”


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