In an event that dares competitors to reach new heights, Marriotts Ridge pole-vaulter Jocelyn Henline continues to raise the bar on her expectations.
After finishing seventh at the Howard County indoor track and field championships last winter with a height of 6 feet, Henline dedicated herself to the sport, attending pole-vaulting clinics and seeking guidance from a coach at the University of Maryland.
After adding 2 feet to her vaults by the end of the outdoor track season last spring, Henline pushed herself to clear 9 feet, which she did in a matter of weeks.
And Henline continued to make strides in her development despite standing just 5 feet tall - a fact that would seem to disadvantage the Mustangs junior in an event in which height is the name of the game.
Henline is still somewhat chagrined that she has yet to vault 10 feet, which is 6 inches more than her personal record. Henline has cleared 9 feet, 6 inches a number of times this winter, including the last three meets of the indoor track season.
Her last vault at that height earned her the Class 2A-1A state crown in the pole vault, making her the first Marriotts Ridge athlete to capture an individual state title. But there is still a part of Henline that is perhaps overly critical of her inability to set a new personal record.
"I do feel good about it," Henline said of winning the state championship for the second-year school in Marriottsville. "It made me happy because I've been working for a while, but I'm sure everyone is getting tired of hearing me. Everybody's been like, 'Congratulations,' but I say, 'I didn't get my personal goal.' "
Henline still swept the postseason, claiming victories at the East regional meet and the county championships with identical heights of 9 feet, 6 inches. She shares the second-best mark in the state in the pole vault, trailing only Class 3A-2A state champion Jess Huber of North Carroll, who cleared 10 feet, 1 inch at the Monocacy Valley Athletic League championships two months ago.
That Henline can call herself a state titlist is somewhat surprising even to her, considering that from July to December Henline lost her pole-vaulting groove.
For reasons unclear to her today, Henline said that after being able to clear 9 feet with regularity, she suddenly could not vault anymore. She stopped inverting (turning the body upside down while bending the pole to gain momentum to clear the bar), began changing her routine and finally developed what she called "a mental block."
The low point was at the USA Track & Field National Junior Olympic championships at Morgan State on July 28 when she failed to clear the opening height.
"I was very upset about that and took a month off," said Henline, who went on a family vacation to Florida. "I didn't do any pole vaulting for the whole month while I was in Florida, but by the time I got back home, I was like, 'I've got to vault again.' It's really addicting. You can't drop it. There are times when I'll be like, 'Ugh, that was a horrible practice. I hate vaulting.' But then two days later, I want to go again."
Just as suddenly as she had lost her swing, Henline regained it, in time for the indoor track campaign.
"I just kept doing it over and over and over again until I got past it," she said. "It was annoying and really frustrating because I had done it before. But it was sort of like you just had to keep working through it. I just thought, 'If I keep working at this, eventually, I will get it. It might take another few months, but it's got to be there.' "
That commitment has endeared Henline to her coach, Bill Athey, the pole-vaulting coach at the University of Maryland who began tutoring Henline last spring.
Athey said Henline's biggest problem at the time was slowing down before she planted the pole in the pit, causing her almost to stop before takeoff and rely solely on her upper body strength to elevate.
Since then, Athey and Henline have worked regularly, and Henline has improved so much that Athey believes that before her high school career is over, Henline will break the state record of 11 feet 7 inches, set by Urbana's Lauren Graff in 2002.
"She's one of those kids who keeps coming back and wants to learn," said Athey, who gave Henline an old pit to practice on in the backyard of her parents' home. "She has a lot of determination."
One would think Henline would need it to overcome her height disadvantage, but Athey and Henline said that the fiberglass poles used by many competitors today tend to blur any differences in height.
While Henline concedes that she has to hone her technique perhaps more finely than a taller vaulter, Athey pointed to Katelyn Rodrigue, a 5-foot freshman at Louisiana State who cleared 12 feet,10 3/4 inches at the Southeastern Conference championships last month.
That inspires Henline, who is trying to graduate from a pole of 11 feet to one of 12 feet to get even higher.
"I know that I have the technique to clear 10 feet, but I get this mental block on it," she said. "[But] I'm aiming this high. Ten [feet] is my goal."
BY THE NUMBERS
5 State championships won by county boys basketball teams. Wilde Lake, Oakland Mills, Mount Hebron, Hammond and Long Reach all have one title, with River Hill looking to become the sixth with a Class 3A semifinal game with Mervo tomorrow.
15 State championships won by county girls basketball teams. Mount Hebron has won a county-high six titles, and Hammond has won three.
17 Free throws made by the Atholton girls basketball team in the fourth quarter of its 74-62 win over Potomac on Saturday to capture the Class 2A South region. The Raiders, who will make their second straight state semifinal appearance, hit 26 of 31 for the game. They meet Walkersville at 3 p.m. Friday.
49 The River Hill boys basketball team is 17-0 this season when limiting its opponents to 49 or fewer points. The Hawks captured their first Class 3A East region title with a 48-37 win over Severna Park on Friday.
98 Takedowns recorded by Wilde Lake's 215-pound state champ Zach Brown, who went 25-0 and gave up only two takedowns. Brown, who had 15 pins this season, finished his career with a 113-12 record.