By TED RADICK
Arlington’s Willow Thompson thought she was right on track to defend her Division III state pole vault championship.
She set a personal best of 12 feet at the Liberty-Benton Invitational, but then some troubles popped up.
Thompson lost to teammate Jessica Beck at the Blanchard Valley Conference championship meet, and had trouble getting over 10 feet in several consecutive meets.
“BVC was rough. It was a disaster,” she said. “It added fuel to the fire. Getting second at BVC, I mean, it was a kick in the pants. It was a wakeup call.”
She answered the alarm at last week’s district meet, setting a new PR at 12-1.
The next step in defending her title comes this week at the Division III regional meet at Tiffin’s Frost/Kalnow Stadium. The meet begins at 4 p.m. today with finals in the girls high jump and shot put, and 3,200-meter relay. Running event preliminaries will follow; the finals for the remainder of the field events, including the pole vault, and running events start at 5 p.m. Friday.
The top four finishers in each event quality for the state meet June 6-7 at Ohio State University’s Jesse Owens Stadium.
“I’ve never been nervous for a meet before,” Thompson said at Saturday’s district meet at Liberty-Benton. “I wasn’t nervous at state last year, but I woke up at 5:45 today and I was shaking when I got here. I thought I was going to throw up.
“So, maybe I need to wake up at 5:45 every day. This sounds like a strategy. Something clearly just clicked today.”
Back-to-back state championships isn’t just a goal. It’s more of an obsession.
“After winning state last year, I automatically feel like I have to do it again,” she said. “It’s a lot of pressure.
“Even if everyone else says, ‘You don’t have to win again. Nobody’s going to be mad at you if you don’t do it,’ I’m so hard on myself, I feel like I have to do it or the first time means absolutely nothing.
“If I don’t do it, it’s going to haunt me for the rest of my life.”
Pressure’s a funny thing; it can drive an athlete harder or make them shrivel. Thompson admits it’s been different being the one with the target in her back.
“It’s honestly awful,” she said, then laughed when she realized what she’d said. “But, it feels good going into a meet knowing that people are looking at you saying, ‘She’s going to win the meet.’
“That’s a good feeling, because you know you’re not going to lose. I don’t know if that sounds bad, but you know you’re going to do well.”
Several other BVC vaulters have a chance to do well this week, too. Returning state finalist Beck, at 10-0, and Hardin Northern’s Mackenzie Shepherd (10-8) are the only vaulters who have reached the 10-foot mark entering the regional meet.
While Thompson aims to make her fourth consecutive trip to the state meet, a teammate may have seen her first chance at Columbus derailed.
Arlington freshman Lauren Willow won the high jump at the L-B district meet with a height of 5-0, but injured her foot while warming up before her winning leap. On Friday her worst fears were confirmed when she found out the foot is broken. Her status for the regional meet is questionable.
Arlington coach P.D. Hunter said Willow may try to give it one go, passing through until she needs to make one, make-or-break attempt. Willow had another medical appointment scheduled to see if she’s cleared to jump.
Several area athletes will enter this week’s regional meets with the top seeded marks, based on their performances at districts.
At Tiffin, Continental’s Paige Ordway has the top 300 intermediate hurdles time of 46.22. Cory-Rawson’s Hannah Roebke is fastest in the 800 at 2:20.39, a mere .16 ahead of two-time state champion Olivia Smith of Tiffin Calvert.
Leipsic’s Holly Averesch leads in the discus at 142-4, while McComb’s Molly Leppelmeier is the top seed in the shot at 42-9. Arlington’s Ashton Beach has the top long jump at 15-111/2.
In Division II at Dayton, Ottawa-Glandorf’s Anna Bellman tops the discus at 124-7.
In Divsion II at Lexington, Liberty-Benton’s Michaela Butler has the top 100 mark at 12.21. L-B’s 400 relay quartet of Butler, Katie Hyre, Kelsie May and Megan Peplinski enter No. 1 at 50.38.
Findlay High’s Emily Stahl will compete at the Division I regional at Amherst Steele, and enters with the top 3,200 time of 11:17.42.
By TED RADICK