Leah Pasqualetti has made quite the name for herself on the national pole vault scene this year.
The Orchard Park senior attributes some of that to speed. Also a sprinter, she sees a direct correlation between improved 55-meter dash times and her pole vault becoming the best in the country.
Pasqualetti’s prowess in both events was on full display Saturday at Section VI Indoor Track and Field State Qualifiers at Houghton College. She won the pole vault (13 feet) and placed third in the 55-meter dash with a state-standard time of 7.25 seconds. Pasqualetti said she will forgo competing in the sprint at states to focus on defending her indoor pole vault state title.
“I’ve been working on transitioning that speed in the dash to speed on the runway,” Pasqualetti said. “That’s why I loved doing the 55 this year because I got to see improvement in my speed, and how that translates to the vault.”
Pasqualetti made a huge splash in the track and field universe earlier this month with a pole vault of 14 feet, 3 inches — which is No. 1 in the country this indoor season as well as a state record. It’s also a foot higher than the vault that won her an indoor state championship a year ago.
The senior said upping her personal best a foot from an already championship quality has taken a steep commitment. On top of school practices, she makes the 45-minute drive east to Warsaw up to four times a week to work with pole vault coach Mike Auble of Warsaw Pole Vault Club.
“The changes we’ve made have been very significant,” Pasqualetti said of her training over the last year. “We just break everything down, piece by piece, building up each little part to make it better. That’s something I might not have had the time to do in past years. We both want to accomplish big goals, so to do that we have to put in the extra work.”
Pasqualetti entered state qualifiers on a personal high note. Two days prior, she inked her commitment to continue pole vaulting at Division I Kent State.
“I definitely felt I had a lot to prove (on Saturday) to my college coach now,” she said. “Just making sure I’m on par in a couple areas. I think I proved that in my race and in the vault.”
Elsewhere on the girls side of the meet, Lancaster thrower Natalia Surdej was a double winner, capturing both the weight throw (57 feet, 5 inches) and shot put (39 feet, 11 1/2 inches).
Kahniya James of Lockport won the 55-meter dash in record-setting fashion. She finished the sprint in 7.02 seconds, breaking the Section VI record set earlier this year by Markira Garner of McKinley. Garner qualified for states by finishing second (7.15 second) while Tapestry’s Jada Kenner, who entered the 55 as the second seed, was scratched due to injury.
“It’s a very overwhelming and great feeling to have,” James said of setting the new Section VI standard. “You want to be No. 1, and with great competition, they push you to work hard to become No. 1.”
Morgan Halt of Amherst made states in three events, winning the high jump (5 feet, 2 inches) and placing second in both the 55 hurdles (8.72 seconds) and long jump (17 feet, 4 inches). It continued a busy and successful winter for Halt, who is currently in her fourth year on Amherst’s 12-6 girls varsity basketball team.
Holland/East Aurora swept the podium in the 3,000, with Megan McLaughlin (10:41.11), Karis Ertel (10:42.36) and Maggie McLaughlin (10:55.79) taking first, second and third, respectively. That trio, plus Celia Cocca,
won the 4x800 relay (9:54.30) as well.
In other results, Sara Puskar (18 feet, 1 1/2 inches in the long jump), Ali Wojciechowski (37 feet, 4 inches in the triple jump) and Sydney Nowicki (2:55.88 in the 1,000) won their events. Sweet Home had four athletes qualify for states in the jumps: Amari Hall (second in triple jump, third in long jump), Angela Carter (second in high jump), Eve Giancarlo (second in pole vault) and Lanee Hil
(third in triple jump).
All of the section’s state qualifiers will compete at NYSPHSAA Championships March 7 at Ocean
Breeze Track and Field Athletic Complex in Staten Island.