Judy Rae

Vaulting Panther – Jacqueline Ahrens

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Setting a school record of any sort was the furthest thing from her mind.

Vaulting Panther

Peninsula High senior pole vaulter Jacqueline Ahrens is set to defend her CIF and Bay League titles

by Randy Angel

Peninsula Jacqueline Ahrens

Four years ago, Jacqueline Ahrens was looking toward making the frosh/soph girls tennis team during her first year at Peninsula High School. Setting a school record of any sort was the furthest thing from her mind.

Now, as a senior deciding on which college to attend, Ahrens can boast of not only setting a school record but one she continues to break as she reaches new heights in the sport of pole vaulting.

“I had played tennis growing up,” Ahrens said. “When my freshman season was over, I decided to go out for the track team. My only exposure to pole vaulting was watching it on television but it looked like fun.”

At the Paramount Relays on March 5, 2016, Ahrens broke a 17-year-old school record with a height of 12 feet, 3 inches topping Leora Ward’s mark of 12-feet-2 set in 1999.

She proceeded to have vaults of 12-feet- 6 in three consecutive meets last April before setting a personal best 12-feet-8 to win the Bay League championship.

Ahrens captured the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 crown (12-feet-3), was fourth at the CIF-Masters Meet (12-foot-7) then finished eighth at the CIF State Meet (11-feet-8).

Penonsula’s Jacqueline Ahrens records a personal-best 12 feet, 8 inches at the 2016 Bay League pole vault championships. Photos by Ray Vidal

Yet it was that first record-breaking performance that Ahrens considers the most memorable moment of her high school career.

“I wasn’t expecting to break the record,” Ahrens recalled. “I was just so focused and it was one of those days when everything just came together.”

Ahrens’ freshman year best mark was a mere 7-feet-6. She credits much of her success coach Greg Miguel

“I wasn’t very good my freshman year but he has taught me so much,” Ahrens said. “Not just about pole vaulting but helping me grow as a person. Now I love pole vaulting. It’s such a challenging sport, both mentally and physically.”

Ahrens improved dramatically throughout her sophomore season, finishing second in the Bay League and fourth in CIF-SS Division 1.

“Jacquelineʻs improvement between her freshman and sophomore year was surprising but another biggie was her improvement from 11-feet to 13-feet,” Miguel said. “She is so positive, focused and a joy to be around. Her work ethic has always been great. Neither rain nor heat has kept Jacqueline from workouts or planning and striving for her goals.”

Despite her success, the Rancho Palos Verdes resident has her sights set on still loftier goals despite the pressure of a bullseye on her back after her breakout season in 2016.

“I’m working extremely hard to continue that success,” Ahrens said. “I want to be more consistent while reaching the 13-foot range. I just want to have fun, which I’m doing as I continue to feel more comfortable. I got a late start in the sport, while many pole vaulters have a strong background in gymnastics.”

Ahrens began this season with two podium finishes placing third at the California Winter State Championships (12-feet- 2.5”) and second at the prestigious Redondo Nike Track Festival (11-feet-9).

“I’m taking things a little slow so I’m strong and jumping my best at the end of the season,” Ahrens said. “The competition in the Bay League is so strong that it really helps me prepare for CIF and State. My teammate Isabelle Beaudoin is always pushing me and going up against girls like Kaitlin Heri (Redondo) and Brigitte Grau (Mira Costa) make me a better vaulter.”

Ahrens practices almost daily, while also weight lifting, running sprints after every workout and improving her endurance and strength with longer runs.

“The more power I have, the higher I can vault,” she explained.

Along with Miguel, Ahrens trains with Anthony Curran. A previous coach of Miguel’s, Curran passes on a wealth of pole-vault knowledge. He started No Limit Sports Track & Field Club in 1984 and coaches athletes from middle school to Olympic levels.

“I began training with Coach Curran a year ago,” Ahrens said. “He has me using bigger poles and, having instructed my high school coach, they both have the same styles of coaching.”

Curran competed in the USA Olympic Trials (1980, 1984 and 1992) and was the 1982 Pac-10 champion while at UCLA. He also was California High School champion in 1977 and 1978 setting the National High School Record in 1978 at 17′ 4 1/4″.

Ahrens is grateful to her parents Earl and Emily for their support and has also received inspiration while attending the Reno Pole Vault Summit the past two years, where she met Sandi Morris, a 2016 Olympic silver-medalist and 2010 pole vault winner at the USATF Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships.

“Hearing Sandi’s story was very motivational for me,” Ahrens said. “She stressed the importance of finding the right fit at the right school. She taught how to be mentally strong. It’s very challenging to have the right mindset going into each meet.”

Ahrens’ high marks are not limited to the field. She has a weighted GPA of over 4.8 and, with physics being her favorite subject, she is aspiring to become either a mechanical or material science engineer.

Ahrens plans to continue competing in the pole vault at the collegiate level, but has yet to decide where she will take her talents. She has narrowed the selection to MIT, UCLA and UC Berkeley.

Ahrens said she wants to be accepted by a college based on her academic performance and that her success as an athlete is an added bonus.

“We’ll see where pole vaulting takes me,” Ahrens said. “Of course, it’s every athlete’s dream to compete in the Olympics, but that’s down the road.”

Miguel believes the future is bright for Ahrens.

“Jacqueline’s main strength, in my opinion, is her understanding of the sport, herself and how to manage all the activities student-athletes have during the season and year round,” Miguel said. “She has been a great role model, leader and captain the last two years.”

Helping Ahrens develop her leadership skills has been her nine-year involvement with the Girl Scouts. She has been a troop leader for the past seven years.

“It’s been a great part of my life,” Ahrens said. “I’ve really enjoyed leading the girls in the Mariner and Backpacking Skills competitions.”

Despite her busy schedule, Ahrens recently began rock climbing.

“It’s fun and a great workout,” Ahrens said. “The facility at Hangar 18 in Hawthorne is a fantastic place to climb. Someday I hope to climb real rocks.” PEN