Loyalsock’s Zurich, working with South’s Jones, wins pole vault at Lock Haven

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Hailey Zurich of Loyalsock clears the pole vault Friday at Jack Stadium in Lock Haven.

LOCK HAVEN — Using her allotted time between jumps, Loyalsock’s Hailey Zurich huddled with her coach. They stared at an iPad, breaking down various points of her latest jump and seeing what needed to be fixed to clear the crossbar at 11 feet, 6 inches.

Zurich was in no hurry as the only pole vaulter left in the field Friday at the Bald Eagle Invitational at Lock Haven University. Zurich’s coach planted her sneaker-covered foot on the runway, giving Zurich a place to pin her pole as she worked on her grip.

What the two were doing was no different than what happens three times a week when they travel to VaultWorX in Camp Hill to practice. But what seems odd about the pairing is Zurich’s coach will soon be her competition.

South Williamsport’s Katie Jones has been sidelined for a few weeks with a stress fracture in her left foot and has spent the time helping Zurich, a returning state fourth-place finisher, in the event. To those two, it doesn’t so much matter that Zurich is a sophomore at Loyalsock and Jones is a senior at South Williamsport. Being friends supercedes being competitors.

Yesterday, the two teamed up to help Zurich capture first place at the Bald Eagle Invitational by being the lone competitor to clear 11 feet. In fact, Zurich was the only competitor to clear 10 feet.

“We are more than friends, we’re like family,” Zurich said after the win. “It’s never going to be a competition with us. It’s going to be about motivating each other. Of course there is competition there, but we’re still trying to help each other out.”

Zurich and Jones were the top two returning girls pole vaulters in Class AA coming into the season. Jones is the returning state champion who was reaching heights unheard of during the winter indoor season, and that was after setting the PIAA meet record to win her first state title last spring.

Zurich is a returning fourth-place finisher who has gone from hobbyist in the pole vault to now being a lifestyle. All in the course of less than a year. That’s why she and Jones huddle around the iPad after each jump and work on hand positioning. And it’s most certainly why they carpool to VaultWorX multiple times each week.

For Jones, those carpools have turned into a vaulter who is tied for the best jump in the state this year at 12-6, despite having competed in just one event. She posted a height of 13-9 1/4 to win the New Balance Indoor nationals in March.

The two-hour ride home often involves staring at that same iPad, sharing ideas and critiques as they try to help out one another. Zurich said Jones often spends much of her time helping maybe her biggest threat at the expense of critiquing herself.

“I could not be more grateful for what she does. She’s one of the best people in my life,” Zurich said. “And I’m really so thankful for all the time she’s put in with me. She’s even helping me when she should be helping herself. It’s been great.”

“I love coaching,” said Jones, who also coached Zurich at the team’s season-opening dual meet in March when Jones didn’t compete. “I think it’s something I want to do when I get older and I’m not able to vault anymore. Right now, I’m not able to vault, but I love coaching Hailey. She’s just an awesome kid.”

After her fourth-place finish at states as a freshman, Zurich’s season has had its ups and downs. She no-heighted at that season-opening dual meet. She didn’t clear 11 feet for the first time until last week’s Molly Dry Invitational at Mansfield University when she cleared 11-6. That height is tied for the eighth-best jump in the state this year.

But as she works on new, bigger poles, Zurich is starting to see things coming around to where she wants them. She was superb through 11 feet Friday, seemingly clearing the bar with ease before missing three times at 11-6.

“It’s becoming more natural than it was at the beginning of the season,” Zurich said. “At the beginning of the season I was expecting too much of myself. I was expecting to get 12 feet in my first meet and it didn’t happen. But you always have to peak at the right time. I’m just waiting for that.”

“Track and field is unlike any other sport. You want someone to do better because it pushes you do to better,” Jones said. “I think she can jump 12-6 this year. I was hoping she would do 12 feet (Friday). But if she does 12-6, that’s where I am. If she’s making attempts at 13, I want that. I want someone to be there right with me.”

Jones was cleared to practice Friday and she hopes to be able to compete in two weeks at the Hoka Henderson Invitational in West Chester. Unfortunately, the recovery from the stress fracture in her left foot is going to keep Jones from defending her pole vault title at next week’s Penn Relays.

But she put the disappointment in perspective, saying she’ll be able to compete at the Penn Relays for four years when she continues vaulting at Penn State beginning next season. She’s also got her sights focused on the District 4 meet and the state meet after that.

Because they caught the injury to her foot early, she was able to recover in time to finish out the season. Jones said the injury likely came from overuse from competitions and practices throughout the indoor season.

“Obviously, it set back my training. But what are you going to do?” Jones said. “I’m glad we caught it early. I’m going to be able to pole vault. I wish I could compete now, but I love helping Hailey.”

And don’t think this relationship between the two is going to change when Jones is ready to compete again. At their core, they’re rooting for one another. They feed off one another.

It just so happens that right now, Zurich is feeding off of Jones’ coaching. But in a few weeks, the two are going to form a formidable duo which both the rest of District 4 and the state are going to have to deal with.

“When she’s back,” Zurich said with a smile, “it’s going to be a lot of fun.”