South River junior Melanie Dawson insists she's afraid of high places.
When she was 10, her front yard had three big pines side by side, and when her older brother, Brad, nailed down some wood to create a treehouse, she had no choice but to climb.
"He'd drag me up there all the time," she said. "I'd be so scared, but I'd always go up."
Dawson still is not ready to jump out of airplanes, so just how did she become the county's top girls pole vaulter?
"It looked fun, so I did it," said Dawson, who cleared 8 feet, 6 inches to set the new Anne Arundel standard three weeks ago at the county championships. "But I'm still scared of heights."
In her freshman year, Dawson was looking for something to do in the winter to get ready for the spring softball season. It was the first year track and field included the pole vault for girls.
She said she didn't know what the event meant, and neither did her mother.
"When I told her I was going to pole vault, Mom just kind of said 'O-O-O-K," said Dawson.
In her first meet, she was successful in getting over the opening height of 6 feet.
She's been flying higher ever since, going from her sophomore-best 7 feet 6 inches and a third-place showing at states to a foot better this winter.
"She has a great attitude. A day doesn't go by when she's not smiling," said South River coach Chris Bayliss.
"Melanie is not a conventional pole vaulter. She's about 5-9 and is thin, so she doesn't have a lot of upper-body strength. Everything is thrown out the window. For her, getting over the bar is heart, determination and fundamentals."
South River has established itself quickly as the county pole vaulting hotbed. In the three years, the South River girls have never lost a county or region championship in the event.
Angela Groves, who previously had the county record at 8-3, graduated last year, along with twins Keely and Lauren Fallon, who are both pole vaulting at Villanova University on scholarships.
The torch has been passed successfully to Dawson, who has dedicated herself to the event with the goal of also earning a college scholarship.
She went to a pole vaulting camp near Reading, Pa., last summer, started cross country at Bayliss' encouragement last fall, and is vaulting six days a week in practice instead of last winter's twice-weekly routine.
"The big thing this year is I'm running faster. That's helped me get higher. The rest is just concentrating.
"You have to plant in the right spot, get both arms straight and have a lot of knee drive to push yourself over the bar," she said. "I've learned if I really try for something and work hard, I can do it. You have to go for your goals."
With regionals set for Monday, Bayliss said Dawson, who is undefeated this season, can reach 9-6 and then 10 feet by the time the state meet rolls around Feb. 22-24, which should put her in strong contention for the title.
"The mental part is the main thing," said Bayliss. "Melanie is one of those kids who's so determined, so out to prove something. She just knows she can do it."
Pub Date: 2/12/99