For most people, the thought of catapulting themselves 13 feet in the air only to crash onto an oversized baggie would seem a little crazy.
For Ally Thompson, though, it is one of the most fulfilling experiences she knows, especially when the bar is still resting on its mount.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” the 2016 Geneva graduate and current Kent State pole vaulter said. “There’s just something about falling from the height and looking up to see that bar still up there … it’s just really, really cool.”
What’s not really cool for Ashtabula County record holder and 2016 Division I state runner-up in the pole vault (going 13-0 in Division I) has been not clearing any bars. She has been grounded by the COVID-19 pandemic this spring.
The NCAA has granted all spring athletes another year of eligibility for losing this season. Thompson will have two years because of a redshirt freshman outdoor season. However, Thompson plans to graduate next spring and likely not exercise that year of eligibility. She has exhausted her indoor eligibility.
Hanging out in her off-campus residence in Kent, the absence of a season gives her a little time to reflect on her interest in the sport, her time at Geneva and the growing desire to keep going higher and higher with every attempt.
WHO IS THIS KID?
Growing up, track and field was not on Thompson’s radar. Instead, she traveled to Mentor for gymnastics. But with school taking up more of her time and Geneva not having a program, Thompson knew it was time to make a switch.
Her aspirations centered on being a high jumper. Little did she know, gymnastics had set up for success in another event.
Amy Thompson, Ally’s mother, emailed Geneva girls track and field coach Bobby McQuoid about bringing her daughter in for private high jump lessons.
Prior to the coach and athlete ever meeting, McQuoid caught a glimpse of Thompson doing some gymnastic routines.
“I saw a video of her standing on something and doing like a backflip or a back handspring off it,” the coach said. “I immediately was like ‘Who is this kid?”’
Thompson never made it to the high jump pit that day. McQuoid knew he needed to get her a pole for the pole vault.
“Gymnastics and pole vaulting go hand-in-hand and she was interested from the get-go,” the coach said.
A broken foot prevented Thompson from jumping in eighth grade, but she learned the basics and by the time high school came around, Thompson was ready to go.
“The girl did everything for us on the track,” McQuoid said. “She did hurdles, sprints, long jump, high jump, pole vault. She could do everything. That’s just a testament to her athletic ability as well as her work ethic. She was a workhorse at everything she did.”
Thompson made three trips to the state track and field meet in Columbus.
She took third as a junior and second in her senior season. Thompson also holds the Ashtabula County pole vault record with a leap of 13-4, set at the all-county track meet in Conneaut as a senior. It currently stands as the sixth best jump in Ohio history.
DO THE WORK
There are three words that McQuiod drills into every kid he coaches — do the work.
It’s a mantra Thompson has stuck with her in the last four years.
“You go to practice and it might be a really tough practice or a hard lift, but you just remember ‘Do the work’ and ‘Trust the process,’” she said. “Even if you’re not getting the results you want, it’s going to pay off eventually.”
For Thompson, it paid off most in 2018 when she qualified for the NCAA East Preliminary Championships in Tampa with a leap of 13-3.5.
In the indoor season, her jump of 12-10.75 at the Akron Invitational in 2018 is the 10th best all-time at Kent.
At Geneva, she was part of a powerhouse program which included Brittany Aveni. Summer Arndt, Darion Marrison, Taylor Wilms and Emily Deering were part of the success in track and other sports.
“The team was always so close,” Thompson said. “We had a special bond and it was so much fun walking into those track meets with so much confidence and we’d walk away with the first-place trophy.”
It was fun, but also an experience that helped prepare her for where she is now.
“I think the program was a very serious program,” Thompson said. “We put in a lot of hard work and a lot of hours.”
The cancellation of the track season was something Thompson described as “shocking” not only to her, but her Kent teammates.
“We were actually at practice when we heard through the grapevine that they were going to cancel classes,” she said. “We were all confused, then I was not able to go to a 5 o’clock class that evening.”
The team met the next morning.
They were informed the season was still scheduled as planned. A few hours later, the training facility was closed, and the season canceled.
“It was a lot to take in,” Thompson said. “We had a meeting at 8 that morning to say our season was on, and then by 6 that evening, it was canceled. It caught everybody by surprise.”
Thompson is scheduled to graduate next spring with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.
If the college sports world resumes, it will be her final year of competing.
Her goals include getting back to the regional meet and perhaps even qualifying for the national meet.
She also has the Kent all-time pole vault record of 13-9 on the radar.
But, whatever she clears or does not clear, Thompson said it’s all about doing the work and seeing the bar still in place when she crashes down on that mat.
“It’s the most satisfying feeling I’ve ever experienced,” she said. “When you work so hard and put so much effort into a sport and you finally reach your goal, it’s just really, really cool.”