According to Olympic medalist and local pole vaulting guru Jan Johnson, there are three necessities to successful jump.
“Blazing speed, strength and a rock solid brain,” he said.
That first attribute is what has him so excited to see what Cuesta College freshman Augusta Thomason does at this weekend’s CCCAA state meet and beyond.
“The ability to be blazing fast gives you all that energy on the runway, and that’s the best feature in her jump,” Johnson said. “She’s really a talent, and she’s just now starting to show what she can do.”
Thomason is one of eight Cougars who qualified for the two-day meet in San Mateo — the largest number of participants vying for a state title in head coach Brian Locher’s tenure.
Thomason enters the meet as the favorite in the women’s pole vault after clearing a school-record and community college-leading height of 13 feet, 41⁄4 inches at a recent meet at Santa Barbara City College.
Despite the inherent pressure of being the top seed, the San Diego native said she’s not stressing about the meet.
“I don’t get too nervous,” said Thomason, who was introduced to pole vaulting by her brother her sophomore year of high school after she was forced to abandon her pursuit of gymnastics following a back injury.
“The crowd gets my adrenaline going, and that just makes me run faster on the runway. I can’t wait for meet day; it’s my favorite time of the week.”
Her impressive personal best broke the school record set in 2007 by two-time state champion Kate Almond, adding to a list of standout pole vaulters who competed for the junior college.
“We do good,” said Johnson, who also owns and runs SkyJumpers, a pole vaulting camp in Atascadero. “Cuesta is just the perfect, perfect blend of a great facility to jump at, and it’s right in my backyard.”
Thomason first met Johnson at SkyJumpers while she was in high school and said he was a major influence in her decision to attend Cuesta over interest from Division I schools such as San Diego State.
“He pushes you,” said Thomason, who hopes to transfer to Texas after her two years at Cuesta. “He is honest with you, but he’s also able to make practice really fun.
“And he’s been to the Olympics. He’s been around the whole world, and he shares those experiences with you.”
Locher said Johnson had been a driving component behind the recent pole vaulting success, but added that Mother Nature, too, has helped in Cuesta crowning state pole vaulting champs as far back as the 1970s.
“Those in the know are aware we have favorable winds at our place,” he said, “and the way the vaulting is set up, there’s a big tailwind, which certainly helps.”
The seven other Cougars who qualified for the state meet are on the men’s team, led by recently crowned Cuesta Outstanding Male Athlete of the Year Connor Fisher.
Fisher, who transferred from Cal Poly, won a Western State Conference cross country title and took third at state in the fall, will run the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races. He is the school record-holder in the 5,000 at 14 minutes, 29.81 seconds, good for second in the state and second in all of junior college.
Brandon Messerly is also seeded second in the state in his race, the 1,500. The Kansas transfer and Temecula native is second all-time in school history in the event at 3:52.21.
“His workouts have been fantastic,” Locher said.
“So much about track and field is based on weather and the right race environment. If the weather is favorable, he’s got a real good shot at a school record and a state title.”
Tehachapi High grad Calvin Herman is 0.3 seconds off a school record in the 400 hurdles and ranked fifth in the state.
Joe Dreyer is also fifth in the state in pole vault, and Lawrence Stokes’ time in the 3,000 steeplechase is good for eighth. Rounding out the Cuesta qualifiers are decathletes Max Clark and Matt Tyler.
“We knew that we had a really competitive team and we thought we’d have a shot at winning a league title,” said Locher, whose men’s team took fourth and women’s seventh at the Western State Conference meet.
“We might not have the depth as some, but we have more front runners than ever at Cuesta. We were the top-ranked team from our conference at the SoCal championships, and that’s a good goal for us this weekend.”