A gymnast growing up, Beavercreek High School junior Eileen Yang decided to try another sport with all those tumbles, dismounts and hard landings taking a toll on her body.
Many of her friends were distance runners so Yang figured cross country and track might be the way to go. She realized distance and the endurance needed wasn’t her thing, but she still stuck with track and found an event more suited for her background – and with just the right amount of running.
“Running 79 feet is perfect,” Yang said with a smile shortly after winning the girls pole vault competition at the Firebird Invitational on Thursday.
Yang won with her vault of 11 feet, edging out Troy freshman Sophie Fong and Fort Loramie junior Andrea Rodeheffer, both of whom cleared 10-6.
“I’ve been jumping fairly similar for a bit now. We’re waiting for a breakthrough,” Yang said. “It’s more just competing against myself and making sure I’m doing all I can to go higher.”
Yang’s winning effort was shy of her personal best and school record 12-6, set last April at Centerville. She went on to finish third in the Division I state meet last June, clearing 12-4, to become the first female Beavercreek vaulter to place. She was also the first Beavercreek vaulter overall to place since 1978.
“(Clearing) 12-6 felt absolutely amazing because I hadn’t PR’ed in a year and one week,” said Yang, who credits (among others) vaulting guru Terry Wasson with her development. “Getting 12-6 was great. It was a boost of confidence that I wasn’t plateauing. … The benchmark is 13. That’s what I really want for this year.
“I just want to make state. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Yang enters next week’s Greater Western Ohio Conference meet a favorite along with Greenville junior Riley Hunt, who finished sixth at the D-I state meet last season.
“It’s so much fun because we’re all friends,” Yang said of the vaulting community. “Whenever we’re at meets it always a party. It’s always a lot of fun. It’s always really nice to see them.”
While distance didn’t turn out to be Yang’s thing, it’s working out quite well for junior teammate Taylor Ewert. She won the 2,000-meter steeplechase in a meet record 7:03.42. That lowered the previous mark of 7:10.30 set by Beavercreek’s Sydney Leiher in 2012.
Ewert’s time could have been a few seconds faster but she slipped jumping the first hurdle and slipping in the water obstacle. Competitors make 23 jumps overall, including five water jumps.
“I’m happy with my time,” said Ewert, who ran 6:38.79 in June to win the New Balance Nationals in Greensboro, N.C. “When you slip and you don’t expect it, it not only slows you down there but it also slows your turnover and going into the next part of the race. You have to stay confident and trust your training. But at the same time it’s a little blow to your self confidence when you slip. It’s important to pick yourself up and keep pushing.”
Spectators lined the track – especially at the water jump – to watch Ewert run. The 2018 USATF Youth athlete of the year recently set the American junior record in the 5K racewalk at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia. Ewert’s 22:28.61 is currently the No. 2 time in the world and No. 1 for U20 competitors.
“It can be stressful because you never know what’s going to happen in a race,” Ewert said. “You have an idea what you’re going to do but its hard when people put outside pressure on you. I got the record and I put in a time that qualifies me for nationals so I’ll take that.”
Ewert plans to compete in the racewalk at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Oregon next June. She’s the defending D-I state champion in cross country – and the Beavers are the defending team champions – and said she has no plans of not defending her title this fall, despite added focus on the Trials.
“With the Olympic trials coming up next year we’ve decided to focus a little bit more on the racewalk,” Ewert said. “I’m still continuing to run but we’re making sure I get in the points I need so when it comes down to the trials I have enough points and the time to qualify.”
The two-day Firebird Invitational continued Friday with finals in running events and additional field events.