North Xtra: North Allegheny senior has her eyes on the prize

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North Allegheny senior Brooke Mancuso ranks among the favorites to bring home a medal in the pole vault among WPIAL Class AAA competitors.

The WPIAL Class AAA track and field individual championships will take place today at Baldwin High School and she'll be looking to fly -- almost literally -- for the title.

At last year's district championship, Mancuso took third place clearing a height of 12 feet, 3 inches. Although it was her personal record, it is no longer enough for Mancuso.

"My goal is to beat my previous outdoor PR," Mancuso said.

To meet her goal, Mancuso practices running what she called "the steps in the grass." A pole-vaulter gets momentum from a very directed running approach. Likewise, Mancuso's practice hones her approach.

At last week's WPIAL Northern Qualifier, Mancuso placed first. The competition ended once the field was slimmed to eight qualifiers and Mancuso had cleared 10 feet. At her previous large-meet performance -- the Baldwin Invitational on May 3 -- Mancuso placed first with a vault of 11-6. Hempfield's Bridget Guy tied Mancuso that day, but Mancuso was awarded first place based on fewer missed attempts.

Last Thursday, Mancuso competed with her team for the WPIAL Class AAA team track and field championship. North Allegheny ultimately lost to Hempfield, 1021/3-472/3, but Mancuso was able to score in the pole vault by taking third place.

Mancuso was actually a gymnast for seven years before trying the pole vault.

"My dad told me that I could do any event I wanted [in track and field] but pole vaulting," she said. "So I did pole vaulting."

It was Mancuso's success in the pole vault that eventually changed her father's mind. This happened as Mancuso participated in track at the middle school level. But she tried other events during that time.

"I tried hurdling, but I liked being in the air because of gymnastics," she said. "So I liked pole vaulting better."

Mancuso even continued as a gymnast for North Allegheny until 10th grade, but the pole vault won out. When asked if she ever thinks about trying gymnastics again, Mancuso replied simply: "No."

Mancuso will attend and vault for Westminster College next year. But competing in track at North Allegheny has supplied her with an amazing array of experiences.

Her mother has cut fresh strawberries for the team for their practices. Mancuso has enjoyed many trips to Rita's (Italian ice and custard stand) with her teammates. She took her first trip to states as a sophomore, where she got to know North Allegheny's best athletes.

She also broke her pole there.

"My first warm-up, I snapped my pole in half," Mancuso said. "I was just shaken up, not injured."

Mancuso went back to the PIAA championship meet last year, where she took 11th place at 11 feet even.

North Allegheny coach John Neff explained that as a senior, Mancuso is providing her younger teammates with a fine example of worth ethic and a role model.

"She's a great leader," he said. "She'll pull a kid over who is new and nervous about pole vault, and she'll say, 'This is what you have to do.' She has a very good coach's eye; I think she'll be a very good coach. ... She's a good example for the whole team of hard work, perseverance and competing under pressure."

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