PULLMAN – Most athletes with the skills to be competitive spend their collegiate careers trying to win a conference championship. Washington State’s Kristine Felix will spend the majority of her career trying to defend one.
Last year, as a freshman, Felix won the women’s Pac-12 pole vault championship. She was the only Cougar to place first in the conference. Her first title defense comes on her home turf on Sunday, the second day of this weekend’s Pac-12 track and field championships at WSU’s Mooberry Track and Field Complex.
The lone underclassman with a realistic shot at the women’s pole vault championship, Felix is trying not to think about it.
“There is a lot more pressure, I guess, because I did so well last year I feel like I have more expectations,” Felix said. “But I’m just trying to stay focused on my technique more than anything. I’m not too worried about what I’m going to place because I can’t control how the other people do. I’m just going to focus on myself.”
The sophomore from Wailuku, Hawaii, has gotten better, but so has everybody else, and last year’s winning vault of 13 feet, 4 1/4 inches (4.07 meters) would be just the ninth-best in the conference this year, including both the indoor and outdoor seasons.
Felix stands only 5 feet tall and must make up for her lack of height with speed and momentum on the runway. She must also be strong enough to transfer that energy into propelling her up and over the bar.
Her coaches say that she is unmatched in the weight room among her competition but still needs to become more efficient in her technique.
The pole vault is a volatile competition and it is not uncommon to see world champions fail to record a height at competitions. Gains and plateaus don’t follow any normal timeline, and one can only hope that the constant injuries are only nagging.
“The challenging part is just staying determined and motivated through those valleys and realizing you will have ups and downs as you’re progressing forward,” WSU jumping events coach Matt McGee said.
“You have to be someone that’s able to kind of roll with the punches a little bit if you want to be a successful vaulter,” McGee added. “If you stress out too much you make the event more difficult than it needs to be. I think it works well with her personality; she’s a pretty laid-back person and easygoing.”
The summer before Felix’s junior year of high school she broke her fibula at a pole vault camp. She followed that by clearing 12-6 to win the state championship. She won it again as a senior, but her mark was half a foot shorter.
The varying seasons throw a wrench in the equation as well. During the winter indoor season Felix vaulted a personal best 13-7 1/4, but has yet to match it outdoors, and only recently got close with a 13-6.
“I came outdoors and the wind, I got nervous about the wind and being outside so I wasn’t able to get a good mark until last week, which is perfect timing, I guess,” Felix said. “I’m hoping to stay consistent where I am right now and hopefully get better through (NCAA regional championships).”
And that may be the biggest obstacle to a championship for Felix this weekend. Her title last year was WSU’s first in the women’s pole vault.
But the sophomore is already thinking ahead to regionals, and hopefully, the NCAA championships. Winning this weekend would be great to Felix, but only if it comes with improvement toward her overall aspirations.
“I would prefer,” she says, “to get the same mark I got last weekend, 13-6 or higher, than if I won with my old mark.”
Athletes to watch
Lawi Lalang, Arizona, 1,500 meters, 5,000 meters: Lalang is one of the greatest middle-distance runners in NCAA history. He has already won seven NCAA titles, and holds the record for the fastest collegiate 5K.
Mac Fleet, Oregon, 800 meters: The reigning outdoor NCAA champion in the 1,500 meters, Fleet will concentrate on the 800 this weekend.
Laura Roesler, Oregon, 800 meters: Roesler has dominated the 800 meters this year and is the heavy favorite in a stacked field this weekend. Her season best of 2 minutes, 0.54 seconds leads the NCAA by nearly 2 seconds.
Shalaya Kipp, Colorado, Steeplechase: Fans will have a chance to see another NCAA leader in Kipp, who ran the nation’s fastest steeplechase time this season in 9:39.12
Nick Ross, Arizona, high jump: Nobody has jumped sideways over a horizontal bar higher off the ground than Ross this year. His mark of 7-6 1/2 would have won bronze at the 2012 Olympic Games.
Aisling Cuffe, Stanford, 1,500 meters, 5,000 meters: Cuffe’s recent personal record of 15:11.13 in the 5,000-meter broke her previous record by an amazing 42 seconds. Just imagine if she does that again.
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