Tigers duo is vaulting to success

By Joe Habina

Mount Pleasant seniors Brooke McElwain, left,
and Emily Bey will both contend for a state title in the girls’ pole
vault at this season’s 1A-2A indoor track championships.
  • Athletes to WatchBOYS McCann Sheridan Jay M. Robinson, senior Finished 11th in the 1,600 meters at last year’s indoor state meet. Recently finished 24th in the 4A state cross-country meet and won the MECKA 4A conference meet. Alex CornwellHickory Ridge, sophomore Placed 21st in the 3,200 meters at the 2013 indoor state meet. Won the South Piedmont 3A cross-country championship this fall. Kellen Corson A.L. Brown, junior First year of competing in indoor. Placed fifth in the 1,600 meters at the outdoor regionals, falling one spot shy of qualifying for the state meet. Austin Hernandez Concord, juniorFirst year of indoor track. Qualified for outdoor regionals last spring in the 200 meters, finishing 12th, and 1,600-meter relay, placing sixth. GIRLSEmily Bey Mount Pleasant, senior Two-time South Piedmont 3A conference champion in outdoor track. Finished tied for fifth at the 3A state meet last year. Brooke McElwain Mount Pleasant, senior Three-time state qualifier in outdoor, finishing in the top 12 each time. Has placed second at the South Piedmont 3A outdoor meet for three years. Elizabeth Olesen Hickory Ridge, junior Has finished second in three state championship meets in two years: 2012 outdoor meet, 2013 outdoor meet and 2013 indoor meet.Maddie Lowe Northwest Cabarrus, seniorPlaced fourth in the 1,600 meters at last year’s indoor state meet. Overcame stress fracture to place 12th at the cross-country regionals and 43rd at states.

Many of the top local indoor track and field athletes this season will be long-distance runners expecting a smooth transition from the fall cross-country season to outdoor track and field in the spring.

But a pair of Mount Pleasant athletes will use this winter season as a way to kick-start their pursuit of pole-vaulting greatness.

Seniors Brooke McElwain and Emily Bey will likely be two of the top 2A pole vaulters in the state. They have a keen interest in what will happen in the outdoor season, but their first taste of success may come in the sport’s indoor version.

The N.C. High School Athletic Association added a state championship meet for 3A schools this year. That means that 2A Mount Pleasant will compete in the championship for only 1A and 2A schools.

That move narrows the competition field and improves the chances of landing a state title for athletes like McElwain and Bey. Neither has competed in an indoor state meet in years past.

Even though they are Mount Pleasant teammates, the two could not be more different in terms pole vaulting.

Because pole vaulting is practiced by few athletes, McElwain and Bey are often the only competitors at regular season meets. So their distinct approaches are hard to hide from.

McElwain has been vaulting since her freshman year. A former competitive dirt-bike racer, she is a three-time outdoor state meet qualifier.

Bey had a background in competitive gymnastics, and she became interested in pole vaulting during her sophomore year. Mount Pleasant teammate Kayleigh Norris tuned her into it, and Bey saw some similarities between pole vaulting and gymnastics.

“Most people are afraid to get off the ground,” Bey said. “Most are afraid to go in the air. But it came naturally to me. I was excited and looked forward to it.”

McElwain has trained under the guidance of Jim Clark, Mount Pleasant’s indoor track and field coach who is an assistant during the outdoor season. Clark prides himself in picking the brains of some of the top collegiate coaches in the region.

Bey chooses to train under the direction of private coach Eric Morrell, who conducts clinics in High Point, Asheville and Winston-Salem. She hits the road for training a few times a week, but she also works out at the Mount Pleasant High track.

Over two seasons, McElwain’s and Bey’s results have been strikingly similar and very competitive with one another.

In 2012, Bey, McElwain and Norris finished first, second and third, respectively, at the South Piedmont 3A conference meet. At the regional meet that year, Bey placed third and McElwain was fourth; at states, McElwain finished 11th while Bey was 13th.

Last spring, Bey and McElwain finished 1-2 in the conference again. At the 2A Midwest regional, McElwain placed second, one spot better than Bey. At states, they both cleared the same height – 9 feet – but Bey finished tied for fifth and McElwain was eighth, based on the number of vaults they had that reached that height.

When it comes to competitions, both pole vaulters wish they could jump what they clear in practice, if not better. For Bey, that’s 9-foot-6. Clark says that McElwain has reached 12 feet in practice, but she has a bit of a mental block when it comes to meets.

“Every time I go into a meet, I stare at the bar and kick it right off,” McElwain said. “It’s a … letdown, but it’s something I have to get over.”

McElwain and Bey will tune up for February’s 1A-2A state meet by competing mostly in outdoor meets in December and January. The qualifying height for the state indoor meet is 9 feet.

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