Sports Talk: Warren pole vaulter stands tall on podium at state track meet

At 4-feet-10-3/4, Raelyn Gardner has become a giant among Ohio Division I prep pole vaulters in the state of Ohio.

Using a 12-foot pole, the Warren junior cleared the bar at 11 feet to finish in a tie for eighth place with Tri-Valley’s Jade Hawkins in Saturday’s track and field championships at Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.

Only the top 8 medal and get to stand on the podium at state.

“Most pole vaulters use a 13-foot pole,” Gardner said. “It’s just so exciting to medal. It’s awesome.”

While Gardner was on cloud 9, so to speak, after earning all-state status, she was kind of down after missing all three attempts at 11-6. At the time, she thought that she wouldn’t be able to place.

But….

At state, pole vaulters start at a warm-up height of 10 feet.

Gardner soared at 10 feet, 10-6, and then 11 feet with relatively little difficulty. No misses at those heights – and that would turn out to be a big plus for her later.

When the bar was raised to 11-6, Gardner had to be shaking her head. This was unchartered air for the Lady Warrior track and field standout.

True, she’d set the Warren girls’ T&F record of 11-1 at the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League (SEOAL) meet at the Portsmouth Track Complex on May 18. But now the bar was five inches higher.

Well…Gardner gave it her best effort, but, lo and behold, she came up short, and bowed out of the competition.

Meanwhile, seven other girls went on to clear 11-6, and they all of course would end up medaling.

Green senior Morgan Estes finished with a vault of 13 feet, 1/4-inch to set a meet and state record and won her second straight state title. The Kent State University recruit tried 13-3 and almost set a standard for all divisions.

There was still the matter of the eighth and final spot on the podium – and Gardner was in the running. Along with Gardner and Hawkins, three other girls – Mason’s Jennifer Nelson, Canal Winchester’s Gretchen Rosch and Medina’s Jenna D’Errico – had also pole vaulted 11 feet – but not on one attempt.

And, that would prove to be the clincher for Gardner and Hawkins.

“Having no misses before tyring 11-6 really helped me,” Gardner said. “I was consistent, and that put me on the podium.”

Gardner gave a lot of credit to her Warren coaches, especially Pat Wigal.

“I couldn’t have done as well as I did in the pole vault without him,” she said.

Next year, Warren track and field reportedly will be competing in Ohio Division II. On Saturday, Fairless junior Allyson Simmons won the D2 girls pole vault title with a vault of 12-5-1/4.

Who knows, maybe Gardner and Simmons will be facing each other at state next spring. “I still need to improve a lot on my technique,” Gardner said.

This summer, Gardner will also be getting ready for fall soccer at Warren. As a booter, she had 14 goals and 3 assists on last year’s 12-2-5 royal blue and white squad.

Ron Johnston is the Marietta Times sports editor, and can be reached at 376-5441 or at rjohnston@mariettatimes.com