Greensburg Salem High School pole vault coach Jeremy Lenzi was concerned as his star athlete Courtney McQuaide was warming up before the preliminary round of the girls Class AAA pole vault championships this past Saturday at Baldwin High School.
"She just wasn't warming up very well because she just didn't look very comfortable going up in the air," he said.
But that mood of concern gradually changed to one of elation as McQuaide achieved a level of comfort that turned into a level of quality as she won the WPIAL Class AAA girls pole vault championship with an effort of 12 feet, which was 6 inches more than the height of 11-6 posted by runner-up Bridget Guy of Hempfield Area.
The title was the first WPIAL track and field title won by a Greensburg Salem female athlete since 1987 when distance runner Beth Buchheit Shutt captured her third 3,200-meter championship in a row.
"It was just hard to get in the air during warmups," McQuaide said. "But when I cleared 10-9 on my first attempt, that helped."
McQuaide continued to clear heights on her first attempts each time the bar was raised. Eventually, she was the only competitor left when the bar was placed at 12 feet.
She had hoped that Guy would be there to keep pushing her.
"I don't like being the only one left," she said. "Being the last one means you know you won, but I always hope there will be someone to push me along."
McQuaide tried three times at 12-3, which would have been a personal record. Lenzi said that when the event is contested at 9 a.m. Saturday at the PIAA State Championships at Shippensburg University, McQuaide likely will have some company.
Altoona Area senior Hannah Mulhern won the District 6-AAA championship with an effort of 12-5. Northern York's Kennedy Shank cleared 12-6 at the Shippensburg Invitational last month, but placed second at the District 3-AAA championships with an effort of 11-6. Lebanon's Erin Winters matched McQuaide in winning the District 3-AAA title with a height of 12-0.
Lenzi said McQuaide's first goal will be to set a personal record.
"The goal is to earn a medal, and the dream is to medal high," he said. "If things go right, she could win. But this is not the be-all or end-all. The vault can be a crazy event.
"Last year at the state meet, she was competing in a cross-wind of about 30 to 40 mph."
Regardless of whatever happens on Saturday, McQuaide will be off to Slippery Rock University when the next school year begins where she will study exercise science and compete on the women's track and field team.
"They made me feel welcome," she said. "Not every school was like that, and I like it that the school is out in the country a little bit. I grew up on a farm, and they have a good program in exercise science."