For Kelsie Ahbe, it’s never been about how high she finishes. Not in the standings, at least. A junior at Green High School, Ahbe won the Division I state
championship last year – her first in competition. For an athlete with
two seasons left, it made for a ton of expectations. Ahbe's hoping to crush those – and the competition – the next three weeks.
For Kelsie Ahbe, it’s never been about how high she finishes. Not in the standings, at least.
A junior at Green High School, Ahbe won the Division I state championship last year – her first in competition. For an athlete with two seasons left, it made for a ton of expectations.
“It’s hard,” she said of the pressure. “I get down on myself really easy, but my coaches and teammates are very supportive and pick me up. All I can really do is do my best.”
Saddled with the expectations, the mantle of defending state champion and all the rest that comes with it, any athlete would hunker down and dedicate herself to training for the encore, right?
The Green star, between winning the state title a year ago and the start of practice for the current season, didn’t pick up her pole. She played soccer in the fall – and continues playing in the spring, time permitting – and had a winter free of sports.
“This year I’m definitely going to work on pole vault more and keep up with it,” Ahbe said sheepishly after her admission of the inactive offseason.
Her peers, if they can be called that, would probably do well if she sat out another winter. It’s hard to imagine her getting much better. And if she didn’t pick up where she left off last year, well, close enough.
Ahbe won the state championship last June with a vault of 12 feet, 1 inch, winning the title with 7 inches to spare. She surpassed that mark last week when she hit 12-2 at the Green Relays.
Ahbe won the Suburban League championship Saturday with a best effort of 11 feet, 6 inches, short of her standards, but plenty good to win on a cool, blustery day when conditions gave many vaulters problems, including Ahbe herself on several of her tries.
She struggled early, needing three tries to clear her first two heights. A third miss at her first height would have left her with the dreaded “NH” by her name; at the second, she’d have finished sixth in the SL.
“Gosh, I don’t know what was going on,” she said afterward. “You can’t have a good day every day, I guess. You’ve got to work your way through it. I had a really tough day today.”
Her tough day was enough to win by a foot. But she didn’t dominate. The Suburban League is loaded with solid female vaulters. Cloverleaf’s Stephanie Foster, who battled mononucleosis until recently, is a returning state qualifier. Foster finished second to Ahbe in the SL.
Wadsworth’s Jocelyn Starinshank, who like Ahbe a year ago is a virtual rookie, matched Foster’s 10-6 effort, but needed one additional attempt. The Green star was happy to be pushed. It’s not the only time it’s going to happen as the whether gets warmer.
“I was glad this happened today,” she said. “I know as we go on I’m going to have more competition, obviously and that’s something I’ll have to deal with. So I was glad I had competition today. Hopefully that will help me.”
After dropping out, the combatants stood and watched Ahbe battle the wind and cold through two more heights. They didn’t marvel so much as appreciate.
“Kelsie is very good,” Wadsworth’s Starinshank said. “I’ve competed with her for a few meets. I’ve learned from her obviously. She has really good form.”
Ahbe isn’t just a vaulter. She’s an athlete. She’s a standout in soccer, having started all three years on a team that has made a state semifinal and a regional during her career. She also runs sprints for Green’s track team and has been a past league champion in the 400.
She’s not just an athlete, either. She’s a student. Ahbe owns a grade-point average in the 3.7 range. She’s not sure where she wants to go yet, but the letters are already rolling in from school’s coveting her vaulting skills.
On that note, she’s not even sure what sport she’d like to play. The best pole vaulter in the state? Probably. But she still has a thing for soccer.
For now, it’s about the pole vault. Eyes will be on her the farther down the postseason trail she goes, perhaps expecting another state title in an event in which nothing is guaranteed
To wit, last year when Ahbe won the state title, she set the Division I state meet record, but not her school’s record. That belongs to 2006 graduate Carrie Kayes, who cleared 12-9 in the Austintown Regional two years ago.
But just a week later, Kayes wound up fourth in the state that year, when she “only” vaulted 11-6. Kayes, like Ahbe, was the defending champ that year, illustrating exactly how precarious that position is.
It’s with that in mind that Ahbe almost scoffs at the notion of pursuing another state championship. If that happens, it happens. What she wants is to keep getting higher.
“Really, it’s all about the height for me,” she said. “I jumped my best jump ever last Friday (12-2), which was 1 inch higher than I jumped at state. That’s really what I’m looking for, is to keep improving and keep getting higher.”
Watching the scoreboard is everyone else’s job – and she has plenty of sets of eyes doing that for her, not that she’s interested.
“Everyone around me knew I was going in (to the state meet last year) with the top height, but I didn’t want to know,” Ahbe said. “They’d be like, ‘Do you want to know where you’re ranked?’ ‘No, don’t tell me.’
“I don’t really want to know now, either.”
So, Kelsie, if you’re reading this, stop now.
Her 12-2 is the fourth-best height of the year, second-best in Division I. Only Courtney Siebenaller, who finished sixth in the state last year at 11 feet, had turned in a vault better than Ahbe’s best, and that only by an inch.
A second state title is not a guarantee, by any means. But it’s also there for the taking.
“It would be nice,” Ahbe said. “I’m not going to lie.”