TAMPA — With winds ripping at 30 miles an hour and temperatures in the 40s, it was not an ideal time to set a school record at a track meet.
It was certainly not an ideal time to do it in the pole vault event.
But Plant senior Marin Arsenault and sophomore Rachel Goding defied those conditions at the Nash Higgins Relays earlier this month. Both cleared 10 feet, 6 inches, putting their names in the Panthers' record books.
"They had both jumped 10 feet already this year," Panther girls coach Roy Harrison said. "We knew they would do well (at Nash Higgins)."
Arsenault and Goding add point-scoring punch to a Panther girls team that already is a defending district and regional champion. Their soaring arc of improvement makes them both candidates for the state tournament in May.
Last season, in Class 4A, Erica Sergeant of Lake Mary cleared 12 feet to win, but four other girls were tied for second place at 10-6.
"They (Arsenault and Goding) have so much more they can do," pole vault coach Chuck Melindy said.
Last season, Arsenault topped out at 9-6 in regionals, missing the state finals on her number of scratches. She was still a good foot away from threatening to medal at state.
Meanwhile, Goding's PR from last season was just 7-6.
It's safe to say that they are both improving at a rapid rate. Some of the improvement is thanks to participation with the Florida Pole Vault Academy, but more can be attributed to Melindy, their new volunteer coach.
Melindy still holds the school record at Jesuit and walked on the University of Florida track team. He provides support at meets, as well as advice in practice.
"He (Melindy) is my favorite coach — volleyball, cheerleading, he's my favorite of all," Arsenault said. "That's why there's such a huge difference this year."
The Panthers did not have a coach for pole vault last season and the coaches were stretched thin just getting attention to all of their athletes. Melindy's arrival has boosted the pole-vaulters and the team in general.
Arsenault and Goding are already smashing their personal bests and using longer and heavier poles. However, it's the insider advice that's really paying dividends.
"Going upside down (was the biggest thing Melindy helped with)," Goding said. "Before, I couldn't go upside down."
Goding had been unable to invert herself before a vault until this January, which was the main reason she cleared just 7-6 last season.
"I tell them to look at the track behind them when they jump," Melindy said. "No one ever told me these things when I was doing it."
It's making a major difference, especially in the young Goding. Goding broke the school record again on March 7 in a dual meet with Steinbrenner when she cleared 10-9 on her first try. It was yet another cold and windy meet. The Warrior girls had not lost a dual or tri-meet in school history before March 7.
Goding and Arsenault's scores helped end that streak.
The Panther pole-vaulting prowess doesn't stop at Arsenault and Goding. Senior Angela Baird improved her PR to 9-6 this season. Baird's older brother, Brian, was a state champion pole-vaulter for Plant two years ago and now vaults for USF.
"We could have three girls over 11 feet this year," Melindy said.
Then the calls to college coaches should start getting made.
Melindy stresses strength and speed for his pole-vaulters. He makes them all run sprints, even when they don't want to.
"You can have the greatest form but not having speed and strength can really limit you," Melindy said.
Andy Warrener can be reached at [email protected]