Vaulting into rarefied air

LANDOVER — With a little practice and improved technique, who knows, Jackie McNulty might amaze people more than she already does.

On Monday, having not formally practiced the pole vault in almost a month, McNulty performed one of those remarkable athletic feats for which she is becoming increasingly known.

On her second attempt at the height, the Oakdale junior sailed over the bar, perched at 12 feet, 7 inches, to set a state indoor record for the girls pole vault and continue what’s quickly becoming one of the Bears’ proudest and longest-running sports traditions.

McNaulty’s epic vault punctuated the Class 2A-1A state indoor meet at the Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex. Only a handful of spectators, mostly comprised of coaches, teammates, friends and meet officials, were there to witness it because the rest of the meet was already over. In fact, just about all of the 18 other competitors in the Class 2A field were already eliminated by the time McNulty attempted and cleared her opening height at 11 feet.

Only Middletown junior Erin Smith was left to provide a mild challenge. Smith stayed in the event by making 11 feet on her third attempt and then matched her personal record by going over the bar at 11-6 on her second try. She eventually bowed out with three misses at 12 feet.

Smith and McNulty have developed a mutual appreciation through their younger days together at the Frederick Gymnastics Club and by competing against one another in situations like this. Last year, Smith placed second at the state indoor meet (10-6), while McNulty was third because she had more misses at the same height.

“It’s not fun to compete by yourself,” Smith said.

The previous record holder was Oakdale graduate and current Virginia Tech vaulter Emma King, who had 364 days to enjoy the mark of 12-6 she set last February before McNulty, her former teammate, wiped it off the books.

King won five state titles in the pole vault, including three during the indoor season, and owns three of the top 10 female indoor vaults in state history. But, in very short order, McNulty has moved into her rarefied airspace.

A little more than two weeks ago, McNulty broke another one of King’s cherished records when she cleared 12-8 (a personal record) to win the girls pole vault at the Virginia Tech High School Invitational.

“I was just able to watch and learn,” McNulty said.

McNulty’s success in the event is remarkable given her technique at the top of the vault — she goes over with her back to the bar — and relative inexperience. This is only her second season of pole vaulting.

Her natural ability is immense and she was blessed with long legs that provide significant spring in the vault and other events. Last spring, during the state outdoor meet at Morgan State, McNulty won the Class 2A triple jump, in addition to placing second to King in the pole vault and third in the long jump.

Once McNulty is able to turn her body at the top of her vault, like most other accomplished vaulters, she will gain an additional six to eight inches of clearance, according to her coach, Chris Heinze.

“That’s going to change everything,” Heinze said.

But practicing such things has been difficult because of the lousy weather this winter. Most of McNulty’s practices this season have taken place in the school cafeteria. She and the other vaulters can refine their technique at takeoff by dropping their poles in a small box, which slides along the ground. But they can’t launch or do much beyond that indoors. McNulty hasn’t attempted an actual vault in practice since the end of January when the weather permitted some outdoor training.

Still, her performance in meets hasn’t suffered all that much. Over the weekend, she placed fourth with a vault of 12-5 1/2 at the invitation-only Milrose Games in New York City. And she has the outdoor season this spring and two track seasons next school year to get better.

“I am just excited to get (the record) now,” McNulty said.

McNulty’s performance, combined with second-place finishes by teammate Abby Stultz in the high jump and 55-meter hurdles, and a third-place finish by the 3,200 relay team, helped the Oakdale girls finish fourth in the 2A team standings with 44 points.

The Middletown girls were fifth with 43 points. Smith’s second-place finish in the pole vault and senior Zoe Wolfe’s third-place finishes in the 500 and 800 runs led the effort.

The Brunswick girls, meanwhile, finished 13th in the 1A team standings with seven points.






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