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Henlopen track and field: Vaulting to the top; Johnson aims for new heights
By Chris Gasiewski, Delaware State News
Caesar Rodney High senior Jennifer Johnson is unbeaten this season in pole vault event at the Riders' meets. She begins competition in the Henlopen Conference championship meet Friday at 3:30 p.m. at Lake Forest High. Delaware State News/James Pernol
CAMDEN - Take athleticism, courage and a bit of gymnastic ability, and you have the makings of a pole-vaulter.
The event is something few can do, let alone be successful at.
Jennifer Johnson has those qualities. And the Caesar Rodney High senior's experience in cheerleading and gymnastics has helped her become one of the state's best.
"Being in (gymnastics and cheerleading), I think it helped me," Johnson said. "A lot of pole-vaulters are gymnasts. I guess the way you get upside down and stuff, you use a lot of the same muscles and stuff in gymnastics."
Johnson went unbeaten in the event this year. Although CR has won the past five conference team titles, becoming an individual champ has eluded Johnson. She placed second at the conference meet the past two years.
Johnson will have her final shot when the Henlopen Conference track and field team and individual championships begin Friday at 3:30 p.m. at Lake Forest High.
Preliminaries and some finals will be competed on Friday. The meet will conclude Saturday, starting at 10 a.m. Admission is $4. Dover has won the boys' meet each of the last two years.
"I'd feel really good," Johnson said of winning a conference title. "I've been working my way up the past four years. It would mean a lot if I had a Henlopen (title) or states."
Fear never sunk in for Johnson when she initially attempted the pole vault at Fifer Middle School. Despite never witnessing the event before being asked to attempt it, she didn't have a problem clearing the pole.
"I didn't choose to do it. My coach asked me if I would try it. This way it would give us more points," she said. "I think I caught on pretty fast. You don't (go) very high in middle school. But I caught on very fast."
Riders' coach Brian Berns added, "I'm not taking any credit for what she has accomplished. She's taught herself how to pole vault. If I tell her anything, she'd know I was blowing smoke.
"She's crazy. Putting this pole that's six feet and six inches upside down, landing crazy on the pit. I don't know what would make somebody want to do that. And she just stuck with it. With her cheerleading background, it just made her real comfortable in the air."
Since learning the basics, Johnson's form progressed and her heights began to escalate. She attends camps during the off-season and also competes for the Delaware-based Tri-State Vaulters.
"It keeps me pole vaulting," Johnson said of continuing in the off months. "This way, I don't have an off-season. If I do it all year around it gives me an advantage. When we start back up, I don't have to pick it back up."
During the winter season, Johnson set the indoor state record in the pole vault at 9 feet, 10 inches. And in April, she vaulted 10-7, which is a pending state record.
She said she will attempt 10-7 again at the conference meet.
"Of course I want to try to go higher," Johnson said. "I'll probably start at eight feet. That way I can work my way up to 10 and then 10-7."
Johnson has helped the Riders gain points in an event that is sometimes forfeited in dual meets. Even if it were contested, Johnson has posted some heights that most boys haven't reached.
"It gives us an edge," Riders coach Brian Berns said. "It provides points in an area that most schools have trouble scoring at all. We've been fortunate and spoiled.
"For her to be a senior, it's going to be rough for us in years to come."
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