Presentation (San Jose, Calif.) sophomore pole vaulter Taylore Jaques did what she always does after a big clearance – she looked directly into the stands.
She looked for her triangle of support: Her dad, Presentation coach Warren Jaques and club coaches, the father-son tandem of Bob and Scott Slover.
This was no ordinary make, mind you. This was 13 feet, 4 1/4 inches to win the California Interscholastic Federation State Track and Field championship Saturday at Veterans Stadium on the campus of Buchanan (Clovis) High School.
This was Taylore’s lifetime best, a season-long goal and the second-best mark in the nation this year. And Taylore, perhaps more than the vault itself, vividly recalled the reactions of the three gentlemen who have been there virtually every approach, plant and take-off along the way.
“Scott was jumping up and down, my dad had his hands in the air and Bob was just smiling,” she said. “When Bob smiles you know you’ve done something very, very good.”
Taylore said the reactions were perfect representations of the coaches themselves. Scott the fiery young buck of the trio and former UCLA All-American and coach at Cal. Her dad Bob is the calm, Buddha-like one who taught both Scott and Warren how to vault.
“And my dad is somewhere in between both of them,” Taylore said. “He’s really competitive though. I think that’s where I get most of it.”
Indeed Taylore is the definition of competitor.
Board games, test scores (her grade point average is approaching 4.6), rock-paper-scissors – you name it – Taylore wants to be the best and she makes no bones about what she’s after the next two seasons.
She wants to better 14-1, the current national record held by of all people Tori Anthony, a two-time state champion from Castilleja (Palo Alto) and recent UCLA graduate who was coached by none other than the Slovers. Anthony, in fact, has trained with Taylore the last two summers and the two share very similar backgrounds.
Both were elite youth gymnasts, outgrew the sport (literally) and are fantastic all-around athletes.
“Just knowing Tori and all she did and all she’s done helps to motivate me,” Taylore said. “Maybe one day I can get to where she’s been. The national record is what I’m shooting for in the future. I wasn’t thinking about it this year, but definitely next year or my senior year.”
Letting go and vaulting up
As driven and pointed as Taylore is, Scott Slover said, she’s also extremely coachable and “a joy to be around,” he said. “She’s intense for sure when she’s working. She likes to work hard. She loves to practice and is meticulous on her technique.”
That largely comes from her 10 years as a gymnast, a demanding and highly technical sport. She broke eight bones while competing and reaching Level 8, and as she got taller – she’s now 5-feet-8 1/2 inches – the sport became more demanding.
Giving it up after eighth grade was excruciating, but less so because she had the pole vault waiting in the wings. Her dad made sure she had a passion to cushion the fall.
Within a week of letting go of gymnastics, she grabbed firmly the hand of her dad, who like a ballroom dancer, seamlessly swung her into the pole vault arena with barely a hitch.
Taylore has never looked back.
“It was really tough to let go at first,” she said. “I had devoted so many years and so much energy and it felt like it was just a long waste of time. … But then as I immediately went into pole vault I got totally into that and I realized it was just a transition. Gymnastics was just preparing me for the pole vault.”
The body control, strength, precision, bar awareness and most important, the discipline of gymnastics, were vital in Taylore’s immediate growth into track and field’s most technical event.
Warren, who along with his wife Cheryl are raising four athletic daughters (ages 12-18), had little doubt Taylore would pick up her new sport swiftly.
“She does everything 100 percent,” he said. “She’s always wanted to perfect whatever she does and be the best at it. She’s the first one to every practice and the last to leave.”
Little did Warren know that Taylore’s early motivation was to outdo her dad. She hasn’t beaten her still-fit and athletic dad at much physically, but Bob Slover let her in on a little secret.
Warren’s freshman pole vault mark at Del Mar (San Jose) was 11-9. Taylore, of course, simply wanted to beat it, which she did by vaulting 12-0 as a ninth-grader.
“That’s about all I have on him and probably ever will,” she said with a wide grin.
Warren went on to be a 16-foot vaulter in college. “I’ll never get there obviously,” Taylore said.
Don’t sell yourself short kid.
The ‘it’ girl
The world women’s record is 16-7 3/16 set by Russia’s Yelena Isinbayeva in 2009 and the American record was set in 2010 by Jennifer Suhr (16-0 1/2).
Taylore, also a two-year starting field hockey player, has the physical and mental makeup to certainly shoot for such a star. Athletically, she’s got speed (12.88 seconds in the 100 meters) and hops (she’s long-jumped 17 feet).
“She has a sense of confidence and focus you just can’t coach,” said Scott Slover, who was a five-time All-American at UCLA and has a personal best of 18-7 1/2. “It’s hard to pinpoint but all great champions have it. And whatever ‘it’ is, she has it.”
Taylore had it early in the season when on three consecutive weekends, she cleared 13 feet. She didn’t break that magic barrier the rest of the season – “though she was right around it,” Warren said – until Saturday.
She and four other vaulters had cleared 13-0 that day – a record amount – but Taylore had an earlier miss, meaning if they all tied, she would have finished third.
But Taylore pulled out a bigger, more flexible pole – the first time since early in the season – and promptly cleared the winning mark to take the state crown.
“It was amazing,” she said. “When the bar stayed up, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was just very, very happy. My goal all season was to make 13-4, and to do it at the state finals was a great way to end my season.”
It was even better when she looked into the stands.
“I have incredible coaches and incredible support,” she said. “To see them so happy made me so happy. We were all in this together. It was like we all cleared that bar together.”
By Mitch Stephens