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Vaulting to the next level

Friendly competition fuels many success stories in the area
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on pole vaulting in the foothills. Cale Simmons knows as he progresses deeper into track and field season, the competition will get more intense each week. But around the pole vault pit, animosity is absent. The Rocklin High senior is good friends with many of his top rivals, celebrating in their success and offering an encouraging word when they’re down. “At the meets, it’s not really about who wins, just who does the best,” Simmons said. “I’m not rooting for other people to not make their vaults. Everyone wants everyone else to do well.” The friendly atmosphere has proven to foster success. The foothills feature four of the top 10 boys vaulters in the state. On the girls side, four of the top 20 marks in California this spring are from Placer County athletes. Camaraderie among rivals fuels success Nick Vogt has been coaching track and field in the foothills for more than 20 years and has seen the pole vault develop into one of the premier events in the sport. He opened an indoor pole vaulting training facility at William Jessup University two years ago and has welcomed vaulters from all over to hone their skills. He doesn’t have a theory as to why pole vaulting has taken off in the foothills, but he said the athletes are in a supportive, positive environment that helps keep athletes motivated. “They all get along with each other really well,” said Vogt, who is coaching Rocklin High’s vaulters this spring. “When one girl is vaulting, there’s someone from another school marking her steps for her. The competition’s great, but they’re really competing against their own personal records more than anything.” The indoor training center has made it easier for athletes at all levels to work on their technique and develop their skills all year round. “We have a lot of college kids that come back from college and train there,” Vogt said. “We’re dependent totally on donations. We don’t want to charge kids. We suggest that they give a donation each time they come out, but for some, especially the college kids, they need $5 just to eat that night.” Twins Cale and Rob Simmons are Vogt’s top pupils at Rocklin. The seniors have the top two marks in the Sac-Joaquin Section this spring and both plan on competing for the Air Force Academy — where their sister Rachel is a sophomore pole vaulter. Cale Simmons said pole vaulting is a different kind of competition than many other sports. Placer’s Derrick Hinch is one of the Simmons’ top competitors this spring. All three will be aiming to take home Sac-Joaquin Section titles next week in Sacramento. “We really like Derrick,” said Cale, who won the Sierra Foothill League title last week with a vault of 16-2. “It’s really nice if you’re vaulting with people you know. It’s more of a relaxed setting.” Placer graduate Stacy Dragila — the first Olympic gold medallist in the women’s pole vault — said the community atmosphere is one of the best parts about the event. “I know a lot of people from that area go to the Pole Vault Summit each year,” Dragila said. “It’s such a close fraternity. It’s a fun group of people. There’s a lot of different training you can do. There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s fun and it’s kind of a daredevil sport.” Robbie’s personal best of 16-3 is one inch better than Cale’s 16-2. But even the Simmons twins’ natural sibling rivalry takes a muted town when they hit the pole vault runway. “You would think it would be really competitive since we’re so close,” Cale said. “But we’re an inch away from each other. I really could care less. An inch is not that much.” The current contenders Between Granite Bay, Rocklin, Placer, Roseville and Del Oro, the foothills are cranking out high-level pole vaulters year after year. The current crop includes the Simmons twins, Hinch and Granite Bay’s Jordan Alviso. Hinch’s personal best of 15-10 is the fourth-best vault in the state this year. Alviso is right on Hinch’s heels and all four are legitimate contenders for medals at the CIF State Championships in two weeks at Cerritos College. Hinch has been vaulting for just two years. He took up the event when he was a sophomore after seeing the success of then-senior Connor Landry — Placer’s school record holder and a current Cal Poly vaulter. Hinch plans on vaulting at Cuesta College next year. Cale Simmons isn’t sure why pole vaulting is so prevalent in the area, but he said the many quality coaches in the region deserve at least some credit. “I think people see there are good vaulters here and then more people want to try it,” Cale said. “Our coaches really help.” Placer pole vaulting coach Mark Rhodes, whose son David competed at Cal Poly Pomona, has been instrumental in helping Vogt’s indoor training center get off the ground and has volunteered countless hours helping athletes like Hinch develop their talents. Granite Bay’s Scott Roth created a buzz when he won back-to-back state titles in 2005 and 2006. He’s still flying high, winning the Pac-10 Championship last week as a sophomore at the University of Washington. Teammate Ryan Shuler also landed a college scholarship. He’s currently competing at Sacramento State. Rachel Simmons competed in four straight state championships. The Rocklin graduate tied for sixth place in 2007 before beginning her college career at Air Force. Placer grad Tawny Lambuth followed Simmons to Air Force after wrapping up her outstanding career as a Hillgal in 2008. Mackenzie Landry burst onto the pole vault scene last spring as a freshman at Del Oro. One year after her brother Connor starred at Placer, Landry made it to the CIF State Championships, where she took fifth, clearing 11-6. This year she’s even better, clearing 13-1 at the Arcadia Invitational in April. Landry’s top competition at next week’s Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet will likely be Granite Bay sophomore Katie Zingheim while Placer’s Dylan Swisley — fresh off her win at the Division III Championships — could also be a factor. Dragila has seen Placer County develop a reputation for pole vaulting from afar. Along with her influence, the area’s coaches and the wave of momentum have carried the event to a new level. “The coaches are doing a great job of recruiting kids to track and keeping them around, finding a niche for them,” Dragila said. “They’re having fun and I think that’s why they’re having success.”