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High flyer

Stanislaus’ Alycia Wagner vaulting for national title

High flyer

Cal State Stanislaus senior Alycia Wagner is considered a pole vaulting contender at this week’s NCAA Division II Track & Field Championships at Al Brenda Track at Warrior Stadium this week. Her ev...


POSTED May 24, 2011 11:30 p.m.

It’s safe to say Cal State Stanislaus senior pole vaulter Alycia Wagner’s confidence level is high-flying right now.

Just last week, she cleared 13 feet, 2 inches during an on-campus fundraiser.

Though the mark was unofficial, it got her coach, Tom Brenda, thinking, “She can really win this thing.”

He’s referring to this week’s NCAA Division II Track & Field Championships at Al Brenda at Warrior Stadium, the home of the Stanislaus team. Wagner’s event — the pole vault — is scheduled for a 5:10 p.m. start on Friday. The “this thing” Coach Brenda is talking about is Wagner’s potential of winning a national title.

Why does he believe this?

In part, it’s because of Wagner’s confidence these days.

“I think it’s very high,” Brenda said. “It’s as high as it’s ever been, especially after knowing she can make 13 feet like she did the other day.”

But to get to this point, Wagner has had to travel a long, enduring path. It all started in February 2006, when she broke her left leg — the important “takeoff leg” in pole vaulting — in a snowboarding accident at Mammoth Mountain after her first and only season at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo. That injury sidelined her for three years, a time in which she experienced much hardship.

 “At the time, I wasn’t very advanced with vaulting,” Wagner said. “I fell into a slump. I wasn’t sure where my life was going. I had a lot of family problems going on. Very tough time for me. I lost a friend, my parents divorced and all that. Going through all that at the same time was hard for me. I couldn’t work. It was hard to overcome that coming up here, maintaining my bills and finances.”

Her first year after the injury involved little exercise.

But after that, she began to swim and bike. She then added running to her workouts — lots of it — to ease back into her track and field event, one that she picked up when she was attending Paso Robles High, where she graduated in 2004.

“With the injury,” she said, “I knew I would get better and I knew I would heal, but my initial thought was health was more important than to try to push my way back into pole vaulting so soon. So I felt recovery from that injury and rest were the most essential things, so I could get back to 100 percent, not 96 percent.”

Soon, she wanted to transfer. She knew friends who transitioned to Stanislaus after attending Cuesta College, so that’s how she ended up competing at the Stanislaus alumni open meet. She didn’t do very well that day, clearing a mark of just 10 feet, 6 inches — which was 8 inches from her personal best at the time.

But she ended up landing a spot on the Stanislaus team. Her situation was getting better, as she was also able to relocate her job at a barbeque joint in Merced, where she continued working during her first year at Stanislaus.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Brenda said, “when she first got here, she wasn’t really recruited. She was kind of a tag-along. She was more of a walk-on. When she first started competing, when she first started practicing, I didn’t think she would ever be a factor in a national championship meet.”

Last season helped change Brenda’s perception. Wagner won the California Collegiate Athletic Association title in the pole vault before she went on to compete at the national meet. In March, she earned All-American status after taking fifth at the NCAA Division II Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, N.M.

This season, she was unstoppable in conference pole vaulting on her way to back-to-back titles. Wagner then cleared a personal-best mark of 12-9 at Cal State Stanislaus Twilight on May 13, which puts her in fourth place on the national qualifying list with Grand Valley State’s Jocelyn Kuksa.

Brenda said it doesn’t matter much that University of Colorado’s Lauren Graham has the top height of 13-3 1/2. Last season, the No. 5 seed went on to win it. And Wagner also has the best advantage at this year’s national meet because she’ll compete in an all too familiar setting of the Al Brenda Track.

Her high-flying confidence helps, too.

At the same time, she knows she’ll have to work for that national title.

“This meet, I’m treating it like my last meet,” Wagner said, though she plans to coach and possibly make an Olympic run. “I’m treating it as very important, like I do for every other meet. I treat every meet the same because I believe in consistency. I still need to maintain the same focus. You have to for any situation. In order for me to approach this meet and have success with this meet, I have to approach it like it’s like every other meet.”

To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail csun@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.

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