Pioneers vault into state finals
By Bill Cain
It’s not unusual for Watauga to be sending pole vaulters to the NCHSAA 4-A State Track and Field Championships, but it is a little unusual for them to be sending just pole vaulters.
Watauga’s Macey Ruble will attempt to win a NCHSAA state 4-A championship in the pole vault Saturday. Photo by Bill Cain
Sallie Gurganus, Julie Ward and Taylor Cook will represent the girls while Macey Ruble represents the boys. Watauga jumps coach Daniel Isaacs said he did wish some of the other athletes had qualified, but thinks his vaulters will do fine.
“They’re used to competing together like this,” he said. “They’re a team within a team, so I don’t see it being an issue with them thinking they have to do more because they’re the only ones there.”
They will take to the runway Saturday around 11 a.m. at North Carolina A&T.
The three girls attended a national meet in New York at the end of the indoor season and know what it’s like to be the only Pioneers in a meet. Ruble said that having the girls there will be good for him because when they do well, he gets pumped up to do well.
Gurganus is the most likely to do very well. She already has two indoor and two outdoor state championships in the pole vault under her belt. She has already gone as high as 11-feet, 10-inches this season, but that’s not the highest in the state.
Caitlin Thornley of Ragsdale has gone 12-4 and Joanna Wright of R.J. Reynolds is just an inch behind Gurganus at 11-9. Thornley will compete in the 3-A competition, but Gurganus said having other girls in the running for the state record, which will likely be broken, is motivating.
“Hopefully it’ll go really well,” Gurganus said. “I’m also excited because there’s another girl who has jumped around 12 in our state (Ragsdale). Still, she could set the state record. It’s good to have someone else up there, so that will be interesting.”
Even if Gurganus doesn’t win the competition but sets a new personal record, she said she would be satisfied. She added that she hopes to go as high as 12-6 with her longer pole, which she will use from the beginning of the competition.
During the warmups for the finals of the national indoor meet, Gurganus sprained her ankle on a long pole, but she has no worries of repeating that incident.
“It’s a different pole now,” she said. “We have a much better pole now. That one wasn’t very fun. I could probably still jump on it, but that wasn’t a good meet. That’s superstition. I just didn’t like that pole.”
Isaacs believes Gurganus can break 12-feet and also has some marks in mind for his other vaulters.
“I think Julie has been ready to bust out and have a big meet,” Isaacs said.
“I’d really like to see her go over 11, I know she can and she can probably go higher than that. I’d like to see Taylor PR (personal record); she had a good PR at the regional. If she can just get back to that height, I’d be happy. We’ve been waiting a long time for Sallie to jump 12 feet and I really think it’s going to happen this weekend. I think she feels like it’s time.”
Ruble has spent much of the season recovering from a quadriceps injury. He has been jumping better recently, however, Isaacs said.
“Macey did well in practice this week,” he said. “I think he’s finally telling himself he doesn’t have to hold back like he’s been doing this year. He looked really good and I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes at least 13-6. This year has been so up and down with him, so I know he can do that, but I don’t expect it. He’s definitely capable.”
The mood in practice has been loose leading up to the state meet, he said, and he believes the pressure is off his vaulters and they are relaxed. Ward, however, took a pole to the forehead during one practice and was cut above the eye. But Isaacs said she’s tough and expects her to do fine at the meet.
Regardless of where they finish, Isaacs said he just wants his athletes to bring their best for the last competition of the season.
“I don’t think the girls are going to sweep like they did the last two meets, but I do see them all scoring,” Isaacs said. “It’s still kind of hit or miss with Macey, depending on how his injury goes. I don’t have too much expectation, I just want them all to go out and do the best they can.”