By Moses Leos III
Finishing in third place at the Region II pole vault competition two weeks ago was a devastating moment for Hays High senior pole vaulter Meagan Gray.
Having only cleared 12-feet, 6-inches, Gray was seemingly out of the running for the UIL track and field state meet. It would have marked the first time since her freshman year she missed a chance to compete at state.
“I knew I had a lot more in me,” Gray said. “The worst part about it, I knew I had jumped so well at practice, that I knew I should be in the top one or two going into state.”
But by earning “wild-card” spot from the UIL, granted to the highest finisher among the four regions, Gray was given a second life to continue her quest for a gold medal.
It was a chance she didn’t let slip away Saturday as Gray claimed the Class 6A girls pole vault state title. For Gray, capping off her three-year odyssey for a state championship meant pushing herself to the limit.
“Hitting the mat gave me the wakeup call that I needed to push harder and work harder,” Gray said. “When I got the wild card, I was going to go into the state meet and kill it. I’m not going to let myself do what I did at regionals.”
Gray’s gold, claimed by clearing a height of 13-feet, 6-inches, caps off a successful three-year run where Gray medaled in every state meet she participated in.
She also becomes the third Hays High girls pole vaulter to claim a state championship in the last 15 years.
She joins the ranks of Jessica Doyle, who won pole vault state championships in Class 4A in 2007 and 2008, and Britni Lawrence, who claimed pole vault gold medals in Class 5A in 2003 and 2004.
After being injured her freshman year, Gray claimed the silver medal in Class 4A during her sophomore season. But she took a small step back last season by taking bronze in Class 4A.
For Gray, matching the success of former Justin Northwest High vaulter Desiree Freier provided motivation. Freier holds the national, state and Class 6A height records. It led Gray to set a personal and school record of 13-feet, 9-inches at district earlier this year.
“She pushed me to jump higher,” she said.
But Saturday saw Gray square off against a field of talented pole vaulters. That included Westlake senior Nicole Summersett and Smithson Valley sophomore Colleen Clancy.
Ultimately, Gray and Clancy dueled for the state title, with Gray winning gold based on the fewest misses.
Leading up to her gold medal clearance, Gray needed only one attempt to clear 12-feet and 12-feet, 6-inches. She needed two tries to surpass 13-feet before sailing over the bar at 13-feet, 3-inches.
Going in with confidence was the key for Gray, who said she used the support of her family and coaches. It was important during her flight down the runway. Using bigger poles due to a high wind was also important.
“Having confidence in my run was the big factor,” Gray said. “Over the last two weeks at regionals, I didn’t feel comfortable with my run.”
Ultimately, only Gray and Clancy were left to duel for the state title. Gray cleared her gold medal height on only one attempt, while Clancy needed all three.
But neither could match the state record of 13-feet, 9-inches. Despite missing a chance to tie the state record, Gray was pleased with her result.
“I’m okay with 13-6,” Gray said. “It’s still 13-plus, and that’s awesome.”
Now with a gold medal to round out her silver and bronze, Gray closes one chapter of her vaulting career with another on the horizon.
With a scholarship to vault at Oklahoma, Gray now sets her sights on the next level.
“I’m thankful to continue my journey at Oklahoma. I hope to do big things there,” she said.