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Setting A Higher Bar

Southwestern’s Allen Clears D2 Outdoor Record In Pole Vault

Southwestern senior Cassidy Allen has been reaching new heights — literally — in the pole vault during the COVID-19 pandemic. Submitted photo

It’s an unseasonably warm early November Sunday as pole vaulter Cassidy Allen waits at the end of the runway at the PPV Veteran’s Vault Invitational in Warsaw, New York.

Holding a 13-foot, 6-inch pole, she finally takes off running and after precisely 14 strides, she plants the pole in the box and propels herself up in the air. At just the right moment, she rotates her hips, clears the bar that is 13 feet, 3 inches off the ground and lets go of the pole before she lands safely in the padded mat below.

Standing nearby, Allen’s coach, Mike Auble, can’t contain his excitement.

“Yes!,” he exclaims in the video he posted to Facebook. “That is the highest jump outdoors ever by a New York State Division 2 high school girl.”

Cassidy, a Southwestern Central School senior, is a history maker. The old record of 13 feet, one-quarter inch has stood for 20 years, but judging from her remarkable ascendancy — literally and figuratively — in the sport over the last 18 months, more history could be on the way … and soon.

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Cheektowaga. April 2019.

That’s where Auble first laid eyes on Allen, then a sophomore on the Trojans’ track & field team.

Cassidy was competing in the pole vault at the Cheektowaga Relays. Leah Pasqualetti of Orchard Park was also there. Leah, who would turn out to be the national record holder and is now a freshman at Kent State University, had an impressive resume even then and jumped 12-7 that day.

And Cassidy?

“I think she jumped 8 feet,” Auble said.

Still, Auble, the director of the Warsaw Pole Vault Club, liked what he saw.

“She was tough and dialed in,” he said.

Auble was so impressed, in fact, that he did something he had never done before. He approached Cassidy’s mother, Debbie, after the meet and told her he thought Cassidy could turn out to be a pretty special pole vaulter and was interested in working with her.

“I told (Debbie), ‘I think we need to know each other,'” Auble said.

Eighteen months and a one global pandemic later, Auble’s assessment has turned out to be prophetic as Cassidy’s improvement has been remarkable. Once thought of as simply a training partner for Leah, Cassidy has held her own against the finest age-group female vaulter in the country.

And, along the way, Cassidy has made a name for herself, too, although she has had to overcome several obstacles to get there. Relegated to unattached status because Southwestern doesn’t have an indoor program and without scholastic competition since June 2019 because of COVID-19, she competed, and won, the SPIRE Scholastic Showcase in Ohio in February with a vault of 10-6. In May, she cleared 10-1, followed a few weeks later by vaults of 11-2 and 11-8, all at the Pole Vault Club in Warsaw.

Cassidy was just getting started.

In September, she tied for second with Leah at 12-7 in the PVP September Invitational, also at the Warsaw Club. The winner was Ithaca College’s Kat Pitman, the NCAA Division III champion and record holder. Pitman won the meet with a vault of 13-7.

Which brings us to last Sunday. The competition was held in Auble’s backyard training facility in Warsaw, a 90-mile trip from Cassidy’s Busti home. One of a half-dozen other vaulters, Cassidy was in a league of her own on a beautiful, late-fall day.

“I had a pretty good feeling going into it,” she said. “I was pretty confident. As I was going down the runway, I just had one thought in mind. If I pressed the pole and went 110 percent, I would have a pretty good chance of making it.

“… When I was going over (the bar), I knew I kind of brushed it and I thought it was going to fall, but I knew I had another attempt. Then I saw it stay up. It was a huge honor. I was extremely excited.”

So was Auble, because it continued the upward trajectory in Cassidy’s development.

“I would say my No. 1 goal is 14 (feet),” she said, “and I would say my overall goal is to become an overall athlete by improving my strength, flexibility and speed. That will directly transfer over to being a better pole vaulter.”

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Chautauqua County is the home of Fredonia native and Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame inductee Jenn Suhr, the Olympic silver and gold medalist from the Beijing and London Games. Cassidy’s respect for Suhr, however, is rooted even more in how the latter dealt with an illness that she contracted just before the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“To see her persevere through that virus,” Cassidy said. “She wasn’t at her peak performance, but she gave it her all.”

So, that’s what Cassidy, who uses Suhr’s poles, does — give it her all — all the time. In addition to her prowess in track & field, she’s a competitive gymnast, training with Flyers Gymnastics for the past 12 years. She’s also a member of the National Honor Society with designs on majoring in engineering when she gets to college. Akron, Buffalo, Kent State and Binghamton are currently on her radar.

Wherever she ends up — twin sister Kayla, an accomplished pentathlete in her own right, will likely join her — the school will be getting a young lady who knows the importance of commitment above all else.

One needs look no further than her jam-packed calendar to appreciate that.

In addition to attending high school — in person and/or remotely — the daughter of Tom and Debbie makes as many as four trips to Warsaw each week. That translates to four hours in the car and two hours of training for each visit.

“I’d like to think of the entire thing as a journey,” Cassidy said. “Getting in the car, it’s part of the journey. My parents? I give them so much credit. I love them so much … for their commitment. I can’t thank them enough for that.”

Cassidy also appreciates all that Auble has done for her.

“Our relationship is very strong,” she said. “In order to succeed, we have to be honest with each other. We have to have that type of relationship. He’s a good guy, he knows so much about the sport and he’s very supportive.”

Added Auble: “She’s probably one of the grittiest, toughest kids I’ve ever coached. You take that mentality and we’ve been able to build a relationship. There’s a lot of trust there. … She counts on me and I count on her.”

Auble said he believes Cassidy can become an All-American and compete for a spot on the World Junior Team.

“She and Leah are cut from the same cloth,” he said. ” … It’s a great fit. There has never been a better fit than Leah, but Cassidy is equally as good a fit.”

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