Orrville senior pole vaulter Alex Eby soared through the warm summer air on Saturday, June 2 at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus, where she was competing at the Div. II state track and field meet.
She bent her pole, sailed skyward, arched over the bar and nicked it as she began her descent. The Orrville faithful roared their approval as she landed in the pit. Then she glanced up, saw the pole coming at her and caught it with a huge grin on her face.
She could grin because she knew that jump was only icing on the cake. She had already secured a state title by clearing 12-04, and this jump at 12-08 that would have been a PR was only for her own satisfaction. Still, the moment almost took on a comedic feel as she caught the bar and grinned amidst what was first elation and then disappointment from her fans.
Then she went out on her next jump and cleared 12-08 to get her PR.
Eby and teammate Karlie Lax continued the strong trend of successful Red Rider vaulters, and with Eby’s win and Lax’s fifth-place finish, Orrville’s dominance in girls pole vault continued.
For Eby, it was especially gratifying because she had finished runner-up not once, but twice at state.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Eby said of her title after getting so close the past two years. “I am excited that I was able to PR here while wining it. I think those times when I got so close really helped me grow and pushed me to excel.”
Her title wasn’t easy and had a scary moment at 12 feet. Unlike her two final opponents — Macie Majoy of Huron and Lucy Prakel of Versailles, who both cleared 12 feet on their first jump — Eby misfired on her first two attempts. It wasn’t until her nail-biting third flight that she was able to stay alive.
Then at 12-04, Eby jumped first and made the height on her first attempt, putting all the pressure on her opponents. Both failed to clear the height, and Eby watched eagerly as they made their runs at staying in the competition. With each miss on their final attempt, Eby gave them a huge hug of appreciation, and then she stood alone, savoring the gold-medal moment before moving on to her PR height.
“It’s a great feeling knowing you’re jumping with no pressure because you’ve already won,” Eby said. “It takes away that pressure and lets you jump freely. I stood there and watched them jump, and I tried to stay calm, but it was so nerve-racking. We all know each other, and we all root for each other. They are wonderful girls, and we’ve jumped together a lot over the years.”
Eby will now prepare for the next level, where she will go to Davenport University in Michigan to vault as well as run the hurdles.
Yes, Eby also is fast and put that to good use too, parlaying her talent in the 100-meter hurdles into a third-place finish in a time of 14.38. In that race, Perry’s Leah King ran a state meet record time of 13.89 to win it. That third-place finish was no fluke because Eby took fifth at state a year ago.
Orrville vault coach Dave Mackey was obviously pumped about yet another fantastic showing for his girls at the state meet. In recent years the Red Riders have made themselves into one of the premier pole vault teams in the state, and Eby and Lax did little to hurt that image. Mackey said it is all about girls wanting to invest in doing things the right way that has made them tick.
“I get great to work with, and they are kids who want to work a ton in our indoor facility over the winter,” Mackey said. “That makes all the difference in the world because they are primed and ready to roll right out of the gate when the season starts, and they keep getting better from there.”
That full commitment was especially crucial this season with spring weather being so awful and unpredictable that the vaulters got very little time to work on their craft.
As for Eby’s gold-medal effort, Mackey said watching the senior come through in her final year was gratifying because he has seen firsthand how much time and effort Eby has poured into her craft.
“That matches Ally Plybon’s school record,” Mackey said of Eby’s performance. “That kid has worked so hard, and she has come up just short the past two years, so it’s nice that the third time is the charm.”
With Eby winning a title, it is easy to overlook Lax’s incredible accomplishment. As a junior, she has now become a three-time podium-placer and All-Ohioan, and now the way is clear for her to fly to the same heights that Eby and Plybon did.
“I am really excited to have her back next year,” Mackey said of Lax. “We have made some changes with her technique this season, and I know she is disappointed in not jumping higher and not placing higher, but I told her she gets another chance next year, and I am excited about the possibilities.”
Lax ended up clearing 11-08, and she has gone higher this season, so it was a bit of a disappointment for her. She wasn’t thrilled with that effort.
Last year Lax cleared 11-02 to place third, and as a freshman she placed eighth. That she wasn’t satisfied with her result shows how competitive Lax is, and it will only serve as a catalyst to soar higher next season.
“I’m not satisfied, but I am happy that I was able to be an All-Ohioan,” Lax said. “I really was hoping to get 12 feet today. I’ve done it in practice, but it didn’t happen. I am already looking forward to working over the winter and getting better. I don’t want to hold anything back next year.”