Western New York’s weather this spring hasn’t exactly been conducive to hurling your body through the air and over a bar, but it was late Saturday night at Hilton High School, and Erica Ellis took full advantage of the calm conditions.
The Gates Chili freshman broke the Section V record in the pole vault, clearing 12 feet, 8 inches on her first attempt to win the Runnin’ Cadet Classic. It’s the top vault in the state this year and broke the mark of 12-7 established in 2014 by then-Warsaw senior Karmen Auble.
“It feels amazing because I worked so hard for it,” said Ellis, who turns 15 on June 17.
Saturday’s vault also ranks:
- 23rd in the country this year for girls in all classes and all ages; the best is 14-3.
- Second among freshmen nationally behind MacKenzie Hayward (12-9) of Flower Mound, Texas.
- Seventh in state history overall (among all ages).
- First in state history for a freshmen, breaking Auble’s 12-3½ in 2011.
Gates Chili vault coach Bob Bartula had an inkling Ellis, who set the Section V indoor mark of 12-4 last winter and won the state crown, could have a record-breaking night on Saturday. She cleared 12-8 on her first attempt.
“The whole outdoor season we’ve been struggling running into the wind, she’s been having problems. It’s just tough to jump into the wind,” Bartula said. “(Saturday) night by the time we jumped the wind was nothing and you tell she was running so good.”
After feeling the speed she was generating on her approach, Ellis said she felt explosive, like she could go high. After the record-breaker, she attempted 13 feet and cleared the bar, Bartula said, “but she just brushed it on the way down,” and it fell.
Records have been falling since Ellis began training more regularly last winter with reigning Olympic pole vault champion Jenn Suhr and her coach/husband, Rick Suhr, at their facility in Riga. Gates Chili has one more dual meet this week, then the Monroe County and Section V championships.
Ellis has set the bar so high all on her own, anything short of an outdoor state title would be disappointing. With good weather expected to arrive, Bartula thinks Ellis could crack 13 feet. The record in New York State Public High School Athletic Association competitions is 13-9, set in 2005 by Mary Saxer of Lancaster (Section VI).
“If we get a day where she gets a little tail wind, where the wind is helping her with her run, and we can get her on just a little bigger pole,” Bartula said, “I don’t think 13 feet will be hard for her at all.”
Includes reporting by staff writer, James Johnson.