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Year in Review: Story #2 - Vault Assault

The USTFCCCA labeled 2015 as The Year of the Vault. Sandi Morris and Demi Payne broke each other's records weekly, Sam Kendricks established the foundation to become America's top male vaulter, and Mondo was a mere shell of himself at 17-04.75. Paulo Benavides of El Paso Franklin finished the season #1 in the US at 17-10.50, while the Weeks sisters (Lexi and Tori) from Cabot, Arkansas closed the season #1 and #2 at 14-07.50 (US all-time #1) and 14-01 respectively.

Texas, in 2018, also witnessed a year for the ages in the vault, starting with Tyler Lee's Branson Ellis.

The first time Ellis hit the 17-0 mark was April 19, 2018 at the Districts 11-12 6A Area Meet at The Woodlands. Prior to this, his outdoor personal best had been16-04.75 at the Region II-6A meet in 2017. On April 27, 2018, at the Region II-6A meet, Ellis raised his lifetime best to 17-04. He would now have two weeks to prepare both physically and mentally before the state meet.

When the 6A Boy's Pole Vault began on the final day of UIL competition, fans had already been treated to hundreds of hours of incredible track and field; Ellis would soon add his name to the litany of weekend treats. Competition started at 14-06; he would pass the first four heights and enter the fray at 16-06, which he cleared on his first attempt. Three others joined him raising the bar to 16-09: Logan Fraley of SA Brandeis, Grant Levesque of EP Coronado, and Collin Lark of Dallas Jesuit. Only Fraley cleared 16-09; Levesque and Lark bowed out gracefully, while Ellis passed to 17-00, a height he cleared on his first attempt.

Raise the bar to 17-07 with one vaulter remaining. A new lifetime PR awaits. Another first-attempt clearance. The bar now moves to 18-00.50, rarified air indeed. Again, another first-attempt clearance. The bar now moves to 18-03.25, the top height in UIL State history, surpassing both Paulo Benavides' 2015 6A mark of 17-06.50 and the all-time UIL mark of 18-02.25 by Orangefield's Eric Eshbach in 1999.

After two misses, Ellis thrilled the crowd! He cleared 18-03.25 to stand #2 all-time in Texas, trailing only Kingwood Park's Shawn Barber's 18-03.50. He then raised the bar to 18-08.25, good for #2 in the US, but three good attempts were unsuccessful, and he remains #1 in UIL and #2 in Texas history.

Picture by UIL Athletics

Mondo finished the 2018 regular season #1 in the United States at 19-05.50. KC Lightfoot of Missouri finished #2 at 18-05, and Ellis completed his career #3 in the US at 18-03.25. When one removes the multiple Duplantis bars cleared (Yes, Track & Field News has actually done this!), Ellis' 18-03.25 clearance is #4 all-time, a feat the crowd at the UIL State Championships will appreciate for years to come.

On the girl's side, two vaulters skied above all others and entered the record books in their own right: Nastassja Campbell of New Caney and Mackenzie Hayward of Lewisville Marcus. Back on February 3, 2018, Hayward captured the title at the 111th Millrose Games - 13-05.25, while a little over a month later, Campbell took the crown at New Balance Nationals - 13-06.25.

Welcome to Mike A. Myers Stadium on the beautiful campus at the University of Texas and the 91st running of the historic Texas Relays. Texas Relays somehow always brings out the best in athletes of all ages and abilities, and for Campbell and Hayward, they were about to embark on a journey toward history.

In 2016, Campbell hit the 13-00 mark or higher one time, twice in 2017 and six times in 2018. Hayward, on the other hand, had hit the 13-00 mark or higher eight times in 2017 and four times in 2018. At Texas Relays, both would hit the holy grail of 14-00 with Campbell securing the victory by jumps.

At Mike A. Myers Stadium, home to Texas Relays and the UIL State Championships, the lower rows of the stands are only a few feet from the any of the pole vault pits; it's an unbelievable atmosphere. You can hear every breath as the vaulter speeds toward the box; you can see the vaulter's eyes in sharp focus toward the plant - a great experience for any track and field fan.

Campbell entered the competition at 12-03 and then cleared her first three bars before her first miss at 13-06. Hayward entered the competition at opening height (11-03) and did not suffer her first miss until 13-03, which she cleared on her second attempt. At 13-06, Campbell battled to a third-attempt clearance, while Hayward applied pressure with a second-attempt clearance. At 13-09. Campbell sailed on her first attempt; Hayward on her second. Raise to 14-00. With unbridled energy and speed, Campbell cleared 14-00 on her first attempt, standing aside such Texas greats as Northwest's Desiree Freier, Waco Midway's Annie Rhodes and Mansfield's Shade Weygandt.

Hayward's first two attempts showcased the junior's talent, but both fell short of tying Campbell's mark. On her third attempt, however, all the technical skill combined with pure will and desire to vault her over the bar and give Texans two 14-00 girls and the crowd at Texas Relays an amazing memory.

Campbell and Hayward, like Morris and Payne a few years prior, kept challenging each other, inspiring one another to reach new heights. And when the friendly competition had ended, both had cleared 14-00, etching their names into the all-time record books: they became the 14th and 15th US high school girls to reach this magical height.

To close out the regular season, Campbell won the 5A vault with a record 13-09, and Hayward won the 6A competition at 13-06.

Pics by TTFCA

Campbell will join Ellis at Stephen F. Austin next season to begin the next phase of their vaulting careers, while Hayward begins her senior season in high school.

In 2018, ten Texas girls reached 13-00 or higher, five of whom return:

1. Mackenzie Hayward of Lewisville Marcus: 14-00

2. Riley Floerke of Gregory-Portland: 13-09

3. Anna Cathryn Griffith of Taylor: 13-03

4. Bianca Cardenas of Edcouch-Elsa: 13-03

5. Lexie Leinneweber of New Braunfels: 13-00

It goes without saying the Texas vault has reached unparalleled heights.

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