Sophomore Annie Tran made history on April 29 at the Ralph Vernacchia Invitational by placing sixth all-time for Western Washington University women’s pole vaulting.
“I'm super happy,” Tran said. “My goal was just to get top 10 in program history. I cleared 12 feet, which is my lifetime goal, and I hit it.”
She is excited to see what she can accomplish at the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championship meet on May 12-13.
Across all events, Western recorded 12 wins, 26 podium finishes and recorded nine program top-10 times during the day-long meet at Civic Stadium. Western won both the men's and women's team competitions matching up against 12 other top collegiate programs in the Pacific Northwest.
In pole vaulting, each athlete chooses the height they start the competition at. Each athlete gets three chances to clear the bar at each given height. If they clear the height, they advance on.
If a competitor misses three times, they are out, and their result remains the highest height they passed. After every remaining competitor has had their chance to jump, the height of the bar increases. The vaulter who clears the highest height wins.
Tran started pole vaulting during her freshman year of high school.
“I wasn't good at first,” Tran said. “It was just fun.”
In Tran’s freshman year at Western, the spring season of 2022, she placed 13th of all time at 11 feet, 5.75 inches. To mentally prepare for a meet, Tran tries to think of a competition as just another practice.
“I just kind of ignore the height. I know that what I do at practice is going to clear high bars,” Tran said. “I like our community. I feel like everyone is really supportive. I have Ben along my side to help me. It's really good to have him.”
Ben Stensland has been coaching track and field at Western for 13 seasons. He enjoys being a part of the process of helping student athletes grow as athletes, students and people.
“Knowing the athletes well enough to identify what they need at any given time is a significant aspect to them feeling prepared to compete,” Stensland said. “I guess the bottom line is just doing our best to challenge, support and encourage the young men and women on our team to accomplish their best.”
Sophomore Kaylee Coble has been pole vaulting since her freshman year of high school. She placed 8th, clearing a 10 feet, 8.25-inch tall bar.
“I actually felt really good about my performance. I feel like my vault came together really well today,” Coble said.
Like Tran, Coble enjoyed the extra support during the meet.
“I had a lot of coaches here, so it was good,” Coble said. “I just blew through my biggest pole so I'm excited for GNAC and to get on some bigger poles.”
In high school, Coble said she put on her headphones to get in the zone before a meet, but her method has since changed.
“Now, I just try to have fun and don't think about it as much,” she said.
This is Coble’s last season on the team, and she has one more meet to compete in.
“I love being on the team,” Coble said. “It’s bittersweet.”
Coble appreciates that even though track and field is mainly an individual sport, everyone still works together.
“You get advice from a lot of different coaches and teammates and everybody just helps each other out,” Coble said. “It's a good community.”
Stensland enjoys building relationships and seeing the student athletes connect with each other and the program.
“Each athlete is on their own journey, and everyone's journey is a little different,” Stensland said. “It has been great to see the progress Annie and Kaylee have been making in the last few weeks. They seem to be growing in confidence, and I’m really excited about their chances at our outdoor conference meet next weekend.”
The next meet for the Vikings will take place May 12 to 13 where they’ll travel to Monmouth, Oregon, for the GNAC Championships.
Malia Fraser (she/her) is a sports reporter for The Front. She is studying journalism and environmental studies. In her free time, she loves to run and take care of her many plants. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.