Raising the bar

North Carroll junior pole vaulter Jess Huber has a daringness that serves her well - whether handling poles or horses

Track and field

February 11, 2007|By Rich Scherr | Rich Scherr,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Bob Huber says he never became overly concerned two years ago when his daughter decided to pursue pole vaulting.

After all, it was probably the tamest of Jess Huber's activities.

An avid horse show jumper and snow boarder, the North Carroll junior has never been one to shy away from danger.

"Everyone has always remarked that she can ride just about any [horse]," said Bob Huber, whose daughter frequently spends time at a local riding school. "They have a bit of a wild horse there, and Jess is the only one who rides it. She has a bit of a steely nerve."

It is that daringness that has helped Huber develop from a freshman who rarely made it over the bar, even at its lowest setting, to perhaps the top vaulter in the state.

Last winter, Huber, cleared 9 feet, 6 inches to claim a Class 3A-2A indoor state title, and recently set her personal best by clearing 10-1 - the top height in the state this winter - to claim the Monocacy Valley Athletic League's Chesapeake Conference championship.

"She has the right personality for someone who's going to be successful as a vaulter," said her coach, Henry Adami. "She's courageous, hard-working ... energetic and incredibly motivated to continue to improve. Her strength is her ability to focus. She's not easily rattled."

Huber, 17, credits that to her experience with horses.

"I've been riding horses for years, so I like being up in the air," said Huber, who acknowledged she has taken "tons" of spills over the years, including one that resulted in a concussion. "I've fallen over backwards [while vaulting] before, and it doesn't really faze me. I just get up and do it again."

Huber started riding horses when she was 5 years old, taking to it like a "fish takes to water," her father said. During the summers, she spent much of her time at the Lehigh Riding Club in Westminster, often competing in jumping competitions in which participants attempted to complete a course of obstacles in the shortest amount of time.

She owns three horses.

Though she played several sports when she was younger, she stumbled upon pole vaulting three months into her freshman year, when coaches, looking for students interested in trying the event, set up a pit outside.

"My friend was going to practice, and she asked me to go with her," Huber said. "I said, `As long as I can do it myself.' I tried it, and I fell in love with it."

Though her father, who ran track at Woodlawn High in the late 1960s, was pleased that she had chosen to follow in his footsteps, he found his daughter's choice of events "somewhat odd."

"But I try to be supportive in whatever she wants to try, so I said, `Hey, go for it,' " Bob Huber said.

Unlike horseback riding, however, pole vaulting didn't come naturally.

During her initial season, she cleared the opening height (5 feet) just once, as she struggled with numerous technical aspects.

"I think the hardest part is actually getting your plant right, because you have so much to think about as your pole hits the back of the box," she said.

About midway through her first outdoor season, "something just clicked," and her performance began to improve.

She gave herself a further boost by attending a pole vaulting camp at Slippery Rock University in western Pennsylvania last summer, running through countless drills to learn exactly when to plant her pole.

"I always count my steps backwards [while running], and at 3-2-1 I know the position where my pole should be for my plant," she said. "It just became habit."

After reaching a plateau of 9-6 for about a year, she cleared a major milestone at January's conference championship meet by eclipsing the 10-foot mark. Also a standout hurdler - she finished runner-up in the 100-meter hurdles at last spring's Class 3A West regional - Huber said that rushing from one event to the other may have helped.

"I came back, and I wasn't really thinking about the pole vault," she said. "I was just kind of like in a daze, and that's when I did the best. If you think too much about it, then it's not happening. You psych yourself out."

Still, she sees plenty of room for improvement. Currently using a 12-foot pole, Huber said that further honing her technique would eventually give her several more inches of height - height that she would need to be able to compete at the collegiate level.

For now, Huber and teammate Sophie Thomas give North Carroll a 1-2 punch in the event that is difficult to beat. The pair claimed the top two spots at this season's Carroll County and conference meets, scoring 18 points in each to help the Panthers capture team titles.

Huber already has received interest from several colleges, both for her vaulting and academics. A member of the National Honor Society, she hopes to eventually become a teacher.

Until that day, she plans to continue to push herself, whether on top of a horse or at the end of a pole.

"I see a lot of similarities, as far as the daringness of it and the concentration that's required," Bob Huber said. "She just doesn't seem to get very flustered, ever."

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