By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Rarely does a person feel good as they’re falling from 10 feet up in the air. Geneva freshman Ally Thompson was feeling little other than elation as she tumbled back toward the landing pit after breaking the Ashtabula County record in the Eagles’ 96.5-40.5 victory over Madison at Spire on Wednesday.
“(I knew I broke the record) right as I went over and didn’t feel the bar touch me,” Thompson, the daughter of Amy and Mark Thompson, said. “As I was coming down, I knew. When I landed, I bounced up and I was tackled by all my teammates and I was right back down again.
“It was a good feeling.”
Thompson cleared 10-6, surpassing the previous mark of 10-3 set by the Eagles’ Heather Combs in 2008.
“It felt really good,” Thompson said. “I’ve worked hard to achieve that. It felt good. All of that work paid off.”
The county mark is quite an accomplishment for someone who has been pole vaulting less than five months.
“It just came naturally to me,” Thompson said. “It’s easier for me than others. People gave me the confidence I could do it and I did it.”
Geneva coach Bobby McQuoid wasn’t all that surprised to see the mark fall.
“I was kind of waiting for it to happen,” he said. “We would have liked to see her go 10-4 tonight, but some boys were jumping with us so we had to go up six inches (to 10-6).
“When she landed in the pit, she bounced to her feet with a big smile.”
That’s the kind of reaction McQuoid wants to see in his competitors.
“I love to see the kids when they see that the work they’re putting in pays off,” he said. “That’s better than anything.”
Most freshmen pole vaulters are still learning to put the fear of falling behind them this early in their careers. Thompson overcame those fears earlier than most.
“Going upside-down is a little scary in the beginning,” she said. “But I got used to it. I was a little scared when I first started. I overcame those fears and it all worked out.”
A year ago, McQuoid saw something in the former gymnast and encouraged Thompson to give the event a try.
“My coaches say gymnasts always make good pole vaulters,” Thompson said. “I came to a practice last year to high jump and (Coach) McQuoid had me try it and I fell in love with it.
“He had me try it last year, but I’ve only been practicing it this year.”
As the novice was readying to make her run at the record, she was well aware of the situation. And she cleared the record height on her first attempt.
“I was a little nervous,” Thompson said. “I knew I could do it. I visualized it in mind, I took my steps and counted them in my head, and I went. I remembered everything my coach told me to do and it worked.
“I have to clear my mind and believe I can do it. If there are any negative thoughts, I get jittery and it doesn’t work out. I stayed confident today.”
“I didn’t see any nerves,” McQuoid said. “She’s confident for a freshman. You say freshman and you think she’s such a young kid. But she was confident in the work she’s put in.”
McQuoid has been the main coach Thompson has worked with in the event.
“I’m so thankful he’s my coach this year,” she said. “I’m thankful for all the time he puts in for us. I’m thankful he introduced me to it. Without him, I wouldn’t have the drive in any of events.”
The effort in clearing the height, as Thompson describes it, doesn’t seem like all that much.
“I just think about all of my techniques, run fast and jump high,” she said. “I was just thinking about getting over the bar and doing everything I could not to hit the bar.”
Aside from McQuoid, Thompson works with Chardon coach Rick Marinelli. She also heads back to a familiar place to hone her skills.
“On Mondays, Chardon coach Rick Marinelli works with me,” she said. “I also go to the Chalk Box and work on the rings. It helps me work on my driving leg and arm strength.
“I quit gymnastics two years ago for track. It’s different going back in the gym and seeing all the equipment and working on a guy’s event (the rings).”
The rookie had her sights set on the record from Day 1.
“That’s been a clear goal for her that she told me in January,” McQuoid said. “I told her to go for it.”
Thompson isn’t satisfied with holding the record at 10-6, though. She has loftier goals to reach by the time her career is finished.
“I want to get to 13 feet,” she said. “My goal for this year is 11 feet.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.