Last Saturday, the Pomona-Pitzer women’s track team pulled ahead of Occidental College 77-51 in the first half of their friendly annual dual meet. The meet at the Tigers’ stadium was the third charmed meet in a row for the Sagehens: another school record fell in the 4×1600-meter relay, and Erin Delaria PO ’15 set a personal record in the pole vault in her third consecutive meet.
The Sagehens looked particularly strong in the relays, as the 4×100-meter relay team of Katie Barton PO ’15, Leslie Rice PO ’16, Ailene Nguyen PO ’16, and Joyce Nimocks PO ’15 ran the sixth-fastest relay in P-P history with a time of 50.09 seconds. The 4×1600-meter relay time of 22:09.39 run by Lauren Collins PO ’15, Naomi Wagner PO ’13, Claire Brickson PO ’14, and Annie Lydens PO ’13 broke the old school record of 23:22.3 set in 1993. Success continued in the field events with Ellen Yamasaki PZ ’15 setting three personal bests (in the javelin, discus, and hammer throw), and Delaria achieving 10’6” in the pole vault.
If the Sagehens are to continue their streak of setting new school records, Delaria is perhaps the team’s best hope. She set her first personal record of the season (10’2”) at Rossi Relays on Feb. 23. On Saturday, she improved upon her height of 10’5.25’’from March 2, her new height still ranking as the third-best in P-P history. The current school record, set in 2009 by Micaela Fein, stands at 11’0”.
“She’s on a roll,” Head Coach Kirk Reynolds said of Delaria. “[On Saturday,] she took some shots at the 11’0” bar. It’s very important for a vaulter to see those higher bars and get some attempts there. That can only help in our future meets as she attempts to exceed our 11’0” school record set in 2009 by Mica.”
Even among seasoned track and field athletes, the pole vault is somewhat of an enigma. Runners traverse the track as fast as they can, throwers heave heavy objects of varying sizes, and jumpers launch their bodies into the air, but what exactly do pole vaulters do? If Delaria is to clear the 11’0” mark, what will that entail?
Pole vaulting is almost as much of a mental challenge as it is a physical one, and achieving 11’0” will require superhuman focus.
“Pole vaulting is a really fun sport, but it can also be incredibly frustrating,” Delaria said. “There are so many things to think about while jumping and before jumping.”
Vaulters’ control of this mental focus must begin on their run up to the pit, as they need to accelerate during their final three left steps and get a powerful leap into the air. At this point, they must plant their poles, another component that takes considerable concentration. As a vaulter’s driving leg is held up, their top arm must be kept straight as their bottom arm pushes the pole forward. A strong bottom arm in the plant is crucial: A lack of force from the bottom arm can cause the pole to “reject” the vaulter, dropping them back onto the runway. Vaulters can also fail to reach the pit if their plants are too brief and they start their swing too early. If the plant is successful, vaulters will bring their tail legs up while pushing their hands in a “row motion,” causing the pole to launch them into the air. Accomplished vaulters reach an upside-down, or inverted, position during this point in the vault, which is crucial in clearing advanced heights.
Delaria singled out the initial jump, plant, and inverted body position as components of her vault that can improve and help her clear 11’0”.
“I am still having a lot of trouble getting inverted and really working the hands at the top,” she said. “It is one major thing that is preventing me from going higher; I often shoot out at the bar, rather than up.”
Pole vaulting requires mental and physical toughness, both in competition and at practice. The P-P vaulters’ weight training and plyometric workouts are designed to improve their jumping power. Along with a workout of 100 pull-ups, 100 push-ups, and 100 sit-ups, Delaria identified a particularly awful workout where they do high knee jumps on a pole vault mat, which she compared to doing one-legged squats in deep sand.
Delaria will get her next shot at 11’0” next Saturday, March 23 when P-P track travels across Sixth Street for a duel against the host Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, Chapman University, and Caltech. While the goal of setting a school record in every meet started out as a joke for the Sagehens, the three-week streak has proven that perhaps the Hens are mightier than originally thought. The magic run is bound to end, but for now, it is inspiring athletes like Delaria to reach new heights.