At the end of their sophomore seasons, Larry Still and Marissa Berry came to the same conclusion on opposite sides of the Tri-Cities.
Still, a junior at Richland High, and Berry, a junior at Southridge, both decided that they wanted to really excel at pole vaulting. And to do so would require a lot more work than either were putting in at the time.
So thanks to some major offseason work, a visit to a pole vault summit in Reno, Nev., and training with the Willamette Striders Pole Vault Club, the pair are now two of the best vaulters in the state in their respective classifications.
And they aren’t done yet.
Still, who set the Bombers record at 15 feet, 4 inches early this spring, plans on going 16 feet this season. Berry, who set the Suns’ record at 12-6, plans on breaking the 13-foot plateau.
At most, the duo will have three more meets this season, starting with the District 5/6 meet today at Richland High. The top eight in each event will advance to the Eastern Washington regional meet next weekend at Edgar Brown Stadium and then the top two in each event in 4A and the top three in 3A will head to the state meet.
“I started this year wanting 12, but I was pretty close the first meet of the season, so I had to make it higher to have something to push toward,” Berry said. “It is something I definitely wanted to accomplish this year. It is pretty nice seeing my hard work pay off and seeing heights actually being made that I never really thought of my freshman year.”
Berry is a sprite of a girl. Standing just 5-foot-3 and weighing 100 pounds soaking wet, she got into vaulting thanks to Southridge vault coach Dave Hurst, who asked her to try the event. Before that she had just done sprinting, but she was a natural fit in the field event.
“The change in her jump technically has come along very quickly,” Hurst said. “It’s a blast. I’ve had a couple of kids that have jumped high 14s and low 15s on the boys side. She is my first 12-foot girl. At her stature — she is a tiny little thing — it’s a blast. It is fun to watch and see her improve so much in such a short time.”
Part of the improvement for both Berry and Still is the work they do in the winter with the Willamette Striders Track Club. The parent club is based in Oregon City and run by Pasco High graduate Rick Baggett. Baggett met with the group of local kids at the Southridge Sports Complex for a four-hour training session each month this winter. He would then outline training for the following month and the Hurst would help implement those.
“It is pretty exciting that the kids are having the opportunity to excel and then taking those opportunities and running with them,” Baggett said. “They worked really hard during the practices, and they are reaping the rewards right now.”
Still started jumping as a freshman when he was looking for an extracurricular activity. He did sprints the first two weeks of track practice before friends convinced him to try vaulting. It’s been a natural fit ever since.
“I like having something to get away from everything,” he said. “Having something I can do, something I’m good at, something I can enjoy and love and have fun with.”
Along with the fun is a lot of hard work as he hopes to go even higher, to heights he wouldn’t reveal when questioned.
Part of his success this year has been a willingness to work on different poles.
“He has been working on poles we don’t even have,” Richland coach Jim Qualheim said. “We had to borrow some and buy some. Pretty unusual for a kid to switch poles like that. He just decided last year he was going to get better and has put a lot of time in in the weight room.”
He and Berry have even vaulted against each other, as Berry is rarely challenged on the local girls circuit this year. So her coaches sometimes request she competes against the boys for better competition.
That competition has helped Berry reach big heights and she hopes to extend her school record and possibly get some NCAA Division I offers.
Based on her work ethic and the reason she likes to vault, those will surely be coming in the future.
“With vaulting, you clear one height and there is always something you can improve on to better,” she said. “No matter what height, there is always something to focus on, to improve and always get higher and better.”
Something both Still and Berry plan to do starting today.
w Craig Craker: 582-1509; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @Craig_Craker