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Lion vaulters look to deliver one-two punch
When Auburn Mountainview track and field coach Joel MacDougall asked who was interested in trying their hand at the pole vault last season, he got a handful of candidates.
Among them were sophomore Keegan Provo and freshman Emily Ramey.
Initially, MacDougall – who competed in the event while attending Pacific Lutheran University – thought he had a group of inexperienced vaulters on his hands.
"We were going through all the drills and 'this is how you hold it.' (Provo) just did them all and didn't say a thing," MacDougall said. "And then the first time, a week and a half into practice, when we ran down the runaway I realized he had done this before. And he just said, 'Oh yeah, I have.'"
Now, a year later, the Lions track and field team is looking at potentially moving on two vaulters to the postseason.
According to Provo – now a junior – he first turned out for pole vaulting as a freshman at Federal Way High School.
"Before I did gymnastics (with Kent-based Metropolitan Gymnastics), but I really didn't want to do that anymore. I kind of got tired of it," he said. "But I still wanted to do sports, and pole vaulting looked fun. I could apply my gymnastics skills to it. So I just showed up at the track one day and said, 'I want to do the pole vault.' That's pretty much how I started."
Although he admits the basics came easy, Provo soon realized that the intricacies of the sport were much harder to master.
"You kind of have plateaus," Provo said. "You figure out a skill, then increase your height a bit. You get better in increments. How to carry the pole was the first thing I learned. You have to have your hands facing opposite directions, with your back hand facing away from you and your front hand facing toward you on top of the pole."
Although some may find the prospect of using a thin fiberglass pole to vault their body more than 10 feet into the air and over another bar and land safely intimidating, Provo said he had no fear.
"I wasn't at all scared or intimidated," he said. "Going up is actually pretty fun."
In his first year with Federal Way, Provo worked his way up to 10 feet, good but not good enough to move on to the postseason.
When he transferred to Auburn Mountainivew, he blossomed, however, posting a personal-best 12-foot vault at the district meet and earning a spot at the state 3A track and field championships.
He failed to post a height at the state meet, but Provo used his disappointment to push his training into high gear.
"Coach MacDougall mostly teaches me but I also go sometimes to Metropolitan Gymnastics. They have a pole vault place there (ProVault in Kent)," Provo said.
The work paid off with a 13-0 vault at the first meet of his junior year, currently the fifth-best 3A height in the state.
MacDougall said he's not surprised at Provo's improvement this season.
"He's coming out of his shell more," MacDougall said. "It's so good to have a kid like him. He doesn't get worried, he stays calm, which is good because pole vault is such a stressful event. Along with high jump, even if you get your PR, unless you quit, you're going to end on a miss. You've got to be strong. A lot of times we have to tell kids, 'You can't pole vault if you're too stressed out.' It's such a technical event."
"It's hard to be consistent," Provo said. "You can learn a single technique or skill, but replicating it over and over again while still doing everything else right is the tough part. I want to make 14 feet this year."
For Ramey, this season is just her second doing the pole vault.
"Last year I came out for track and I saw Keegan do (pole vault) a couple times, and it just seemed like an interesting, exciting thing," she said.
Ramey and her father watched YouTube videos of pole vaulting, and soon she was hooked.
"It looked really, really fun and cool," she said, "like flying."
Unlike Provo, Ramey said she was a little intimidated by the mechanics at first.
"It was a little difficult because it feels awkward," she said. "It's not how you would normally hold things or even jump. But after a lot of receptive training it got a lot easier to get into. Once you know what it's supposed to feel like, it makes it easier."
"Even at the beginning of this year it took me awhile," she said. "It's a mental thing, it's just freaky to think about all that can go wrong. It's definitely scary."
Ramey's personal-best vault is 7-6, although she's hitting 8 feet in practice. Her goal is to top 9-6 and hopefully earn a spot at state.
But she knows it will take a lot of work and practice time, which has been scarce this season as she battles a hamstring injury.
"I need to extend a lot more (technique). I'm not expanding my arms enough so I'm not exploding into the pit and into the air," Ramey said.
Ramey and Provo will get a chance to set higher marks in the vault next Thursday when they travel for a dual meet against South Puget Sound League 3A rival Lakes.