Wheeler hitting stride as pole vaulter

Posted Feb. 10, 2010, at 10:57 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — It’s not easy for a pole vaulter to get in the proper workouts in indoor track as opposed to outdoor, since practice time is limited at the University of Maine field house, the only facility Eastern Maine athletes have at which to vault.

Orono High School’s Shelby Wheeler has been improving steadily throughout the season, but she and coach Chris Libby had been eagerly awaiting a breakout performance.

It finally came to fruition at last weekend’s Eastern Maine Indoor Track League championships, as Wheeler cleared 10 feet, 2 inches, good for a league record, and she’ll be looking to go higher at Monday’s Class B state championships at Bates College in Lewiston.

The Class A teams will run at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham, and preliminary heats and field events start at 10 a.m. at each site.

The pole vault runway at an indoor facility is also slightly shorter — roughly six lengths — than one outdoors, but Wheeler has gained confidence every time she steps on it.

“Her practices the last two weeks have really started coming around for her,” said Libby. “It’s so hard in indoor track to get the technique right, because you’ve taken probably six lengths off, and the timing’s not there and the strength’s not there and the coordination isn’t there yet.”

Coming into Saturday’s championships, Wheeler’s personal record had stood at 9-6, but clearing 9-9 prior to attempting 10-2 boosted her confidence a little bit.

“I had been struggling a lot this season,” she said. “[But] I had a lot of good competition, too. We had a girl from the KVAC [Lindsey Folsom of Cony of Augusta] come up the first meet and vaulted 10 feet.”

Wheeler missed on her first two attempts at 10-2, hitting the bar on the way up with her arm the first time and admittedly losing her focus on the second, but the third was a different story.

“I had just come back from triple [jump], and I had spoken with my coach, and he talked to me about technique and it came together,” Wheeler said.

It certainly did, as she soared over 10-2 and broke the record Rachel Bergman, a former Red Riot ironically, had held since 2005.

The Class B state record is 11 feet, set by Chantelle Haggerty of Hermon in 2002.

“I’d like to PR and go 10-6, and I would be thrilled with anything higher than that, but I’m happy with where I am right now,” said Wheeler, who has been vaulting with the same 12-foot pole the last two seasons.

Wheeler’s efforts helped lead Orono to a runner-up finish in the EMITL meet, its highest finish since winning back in 1995. Other key Orono athletes in the state championships will be Holli Kenison in the long and triple jumps and hurdles, Alex Crocker and Chloe Paul in the sprints and Kayla Marquis in the vault.

Wheeler is also a talented hurdler and triple jumper.

“Orono used to win a lot. Orono has a very good tradition in both girls and boys winning prior to Bangor and Brewer becoming those huge powers,” Libby said.

Elsewhere in Class B, Old Town junior Katie DeShane and classmate Kayla Brooks will be among the Coyotes’ best hopes for big points, with DeShane expected to fare well in the high jump and sprints and Brooks in the 55 dash and triple jump.

MDI’s Destiny Kanu will be among the favorites in the sprinting events, while Hampden Academy’s Alley Becker, Katie Feeney of Hermon, John Bapst’s Maggie Bryan and Ellsworth’s Brianne Dunn look strong in the distance events.

Perennial powers Waterville, York and Greely of Cumberland Center are among the team favorites.

Waterville and Greely have combined to win the last nine state championships.

Bangor and Brewer each have talented athletes expected to be contenders in Class A, with the Rams being one of the dark-horse teams which could emerge with a state championship.

Coach Jaime Cooke’s team does feature the top athletes needed to make such a challenge, such as freshman Grace Maclean. The EMITL champion ran the 55 hurdles in 9.04 seconds, which earned her the top seed in Class A.

Maclean is also a top-notch high jumper, having cleared 5-2 this winter, while teammate Megan Hogan will also provide depth in the high jump.

Hogan, also a talented long jumper, has cleared 5-2 in the high jump as well.

Maclean could also run the 4×200 relay, an event the Rams set an EMITL record in earlier this winter.

Other key athletes for Bangor will be Brittney Chapman, Laken Thomas and Jade Baumrind in the sprints while Baumrind is also a solid hurdler. Erin Nichols was second in Eastern Maine in the shot put.

Brewer features two top-notch distance runners in Sara Chavarie and Michelle Haluska, who won the mile and 2-mile, respectively, at Easterns.

They’ll have to deal with some stiff competition that includes Kathleen McMahon of Brunswick, Fiona Hendry and Liana Rubinhoff of Cheverus of Portland and Melissa Dellatore of Scarborough.

The Witches have a freshman standout of their own in the sprints in Rachel Craig, who will be looking to rebound after false-starting in the 55 in Easterns, along with the EMITL shot put champ in Colleen Gilley.

Other team favorites appear to be Edward Little of Auburn out of the KVAC and SMAA winner Thornton Academy of Saco while Cheverus, with its depth and talent in the distance races, is a threat as well, along with Bonny Eagle of Buxton.

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