May 24, 2015

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St. Al’s Waites looking to reclaim crown as state’s top pole vaulter

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 10, 2014

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As a seventh-grader, Maggie Waites won the girls Class 1A pole vault championship with a record-setting height.

She repeated as champion the next two years, and broke her own record — and set an overall state record — in 2012.

Then, in 2013, she did something truly astonishing.

She lost.

Waites failed to clear a height at last year’s state meet and gave up her crown as champion. It’s a loss that has stuck with her for 364 days, and one she can finally avenge Monday at the Class 1A state meet at Pearl High School.

State-bound Flashes

St. Aloysius athletes competing in the Class 6A state meet Saturday at Pearl High School

Girls

• Madalyn Burke – 1,600 meters

• Alyssa Engel – Long jump, triple jump, 200 meters

• Tori Thomas – Shot put, discus

• Maggie Waites – Pole vault

• 4×200 meter relay – Mary Ranager, Grace Burnett, Dede Apenyo, Laura Phillips

• 4×400 meter relay – Grace Burnett, Claire Jamison, Dede Apenyo, Alyssa Engel

Boys

• Josh Price – Shot put, discus

“It kind of stuck with me because I didn’t win state, but it motivated me this year,” Waites, now a junior, said. “I want to jump well, and not jumping well was what hurt last year.”

Waites is one of nine members of St. Al’s girls track team who will compete in six individual events and two relays at the state meet.

Other team members competing Monday are Alyssa Engel (long jump, triple jump, 200 meters); Tori Thomas (shot put, discus); Madalyn Burke (1,600 meters); the 4×200 meter relay team of Mary Ranager, Grace Burnett, Dede Apenyo and Laura Phillips; and the 4×400 meter relay team of Burnett, Engel, Apenyo and Claire Jamison.

In the boys’ meet, Josh Price will compete in the shot put and discus. He’s the only male St. Al athlete who qualified for state.

In a lot of ways, Waites is simply trying to beat herself more than the five other vaulters in the state field. Her qualifying mark of 11 feet is the best in Mississippi — in any classification — this season.

In Class 1A, Waites’ mark is 2 feet higher than the closest challenger, junior Chelsey McDaniel of French Camp. McDaniel won the state title last year when Waites faltered.

Clinton’s Carrie Lynn McCormick set the overall record last year at 11 feet, 7 inches, and Waites said she wants not only her state title, but her record back as well.

“I really do want to get the state record back. That’s a goal,” Waites said. “The 1A girls have always gone before the 6A girls, and this year the 6A girls jump first. If a girl breaks the state record, that’ll give me more motivation to get that record.”

Waites began vaulting before her seventh-grade year. She had been involved in gymnastics, but took up pole vaulting at the suggestion of then-St. Al coach Mike Jones.

Waites attended a vaulting camp in Arkansas, and immediately fell in love with her new sport. The agility and body control she’d learned through nine years as a gymnast helped make her a natural pole vaulter.

“I loved it the first time I did it,” Waites said. “For a beginner, I did well, and being able to fly and flip like I did in gymnastics was fun.”

By the end of her first season, Waites was a state champion. And now, five years later, she’s become one of the best in state history.

“At the time I was just jumping and having fun with it, and it ended up being a record. I didn’t think of it as a big thing,” Waites said of her early success. “Probably the first time it dawned on me was when I was watching the 6A girls and they were going for my record.”

Over the years, Waites insists, winning has become a byproduct of her craft. When asked about winning multiple state championships, she quickly shrugs it off.

“I just jump,” she said with a sigh. “I have fun doing what I love to do.”

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