By PATRICK SLACK
Dusk was setting in and only one thing separated Little Falls from its first-ever championship: a win in the pole vault.
In other words, it was in the bag.
Junior pole vaulter Rachelle LeBlanc rose to the occasion, literally, as she has throughout her Flyers career, easily surpassing the runner-up placer’s mark of 10-feet.
Then, with the championship already secured, she went on to outdo her own school record by three more inches, finishing with a personal best of 11-feet, 3-inches.
“I treated it like any other meet,” LeBlanc said. “I warmed up with long jump and it went all right. But I knew I had to wipe it off and have a clean slate when I went to pole vault, because I had to deliver.”
The feat was just another item added to what has developed into a lengthy list of athletic accomplishments for the three-sport standout, capped this spring by a fourth trip to the state meet in a row.
‘Not OK with being OK’
There’s no arguing that LeBlanc’s premier event is the pole vault.
But starting last year, she took up long jumping, while also serving as the anchor of the team’s 4×200-meter relay team.
“I can’t even explain how valuable it is,” Little Falls girls head coach Tara Schlagel said. “We can’t win track meets without athletes like that. For someone like Rachelle, I could stick her in a whole lot more than she’s doing and she’d be fine. Anything she did she placed well.”
LeBlanc’s natural athletic ability is evident based on her success in soccer and gymnastics in addition to track, Schlagel said, but wouldn’t mean as much without her drive.
“Her work ethic speaks for itself,” Schlagel said. “She’s one of the last to leave the track every night in practice. She’s quiet, but it’s a strong quiet. You need kids like that.”
“She is not OK with being OK,” she said. “She puts a lot of expectations on herself. She has to be the best. And you have to have that attitude to be the best. She’s very likable. She’s very coachable. She’s definitely looked up to by her teammates.”
Another trip to state
LeBlanc cleared 10-feet, 5-inches at the Section 8AA meet to qualify for state, then hit 10-feet, 6-inches in the Class AA competition for the fourth year in a row.
“I just wanted to go and do my best this year and I knew it was (assistants Nick) Czech’s and (Paul) Roach’s last year and I really wanted to enjoy it, because I’m not going to be able to experience that with them ever again,” LeBlanc said.
“Just watching the state meet is fun, seeing the upper level perform,” Schlagel said. “It’s a great atmosphere. Watching her perform at that level is never a disappointment.”
Battling the fear factor
Just like every other track and field event performed at an elite level, the competition can be stressful.
Unlike every other event, however, pole vault carries the added danger of being 10-plus feet in the air with the only support being a narrow pole, all the while trying to contort one’s body over the bar.
“It’s definitely not natural,” LeBlanc said. “It’s so scary. It used to not be very scary, but getting on bigger poles, it’s way more difficult and every little thing is counting a lot more. If you do something wrong it’s going to affect you greatly.”
“It’s not an easy event,” Schlagel said. “There’s so much to it. It’s not just grab your pole and go. If there’s even a little precipitation it’s tough for them. She’s definitely put time into it. I just stand sometimes and admire what she does.”
One more year to go
LeBlanc will be at the forefront of what Schalgel called a small but talented group on incoming seniors next year, with the chance to reach a fifth state meet and better her own school record within reach.
“I would really like to place,” LeBlanc said. “That was my goal this year, but it just didn’t work out. I would really like to be consistent next year. I definitely would like to compete at 11 (feet) a lot. I was injured a little this year, so I hope I can change my form so I don’t get injured (shin splints) at all next year.”
“I don’t see why she isn’t going to break her own school record, again,” Schlagel said. “I’m looking forward to it and excited. I know she hasn’t tapped out on her ability.”
Granite Ridge Conference Championship
Pole vault: first; 11-feet, 3-inches
4×200-meter relay: fifth; 1:55.24.
Long jump: seventh; 14-feet, 7-inches.
Section 8AA True Team meet
Pole vault: first; 10-feet, 6-inches.
Long jump: 13th; 14-feet, 1-inch.
Section 8AA meet
Pole vault: second; 10-feet, 5-inches.
4×200-meter relay: 10th; 1:52.97.
Long jump: 19th; 14-feet, 8-inches.
Class AA state championship
Pole vault: 11th; 10-feet, 6-inches.