Track & Field: Dublin Coffman's Karlee North eager to return to vaulting
Trying to keep up her skills in an event such as the pole vault has forced Dublin Coffman senior track and field standout Karlee North to get creative this spring.
A two-time state indoor and one-time state outdoor qualifier, North has worked as much as possible the past few weeks with a stubby, which is a shortened pole, after the spring sports season was canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
She was hoping to return to a pole vault pit early this month after the OHSAA lifted the no-contact period for prep athletes and school facilities were reopened.
"(Pole vault is) very easy to social distance for," North said. "I've been doing a lot of running, hill running and some distance running here and there. I've also been doing some work with my stubby, which is a little pole, just out in front of my house. It's probably about 4 feet long.
"I've missed (the pole vault) a lot. I've been focusing on the positive aspects of (staying at home). I've been able to get outside a lot more, do some things I haven't been able to do and have tried to keep myself busy."
North was set up for a strong outdoor season before spring sports were canceled.
In the state indoor meet March 7 at SPIRE Institute in Geneva, North finished fourth in the pole vault by clearing 12 feet. She cleared a personal-best 12-4 during an indoor meet in February.
North, who also was fourth with a height of 12-0 at the state indoor meet as a sophomore, finished sixth at the state outdoor meet as a junior when she again cleared 12-0.
She also won back-to-back OCC-Central Division titles in the pole vault during her final two prep outdoor seasons.
As a sophomore in the outdoor season, North was fifth at regional in the pole vault (11-0) and ran on the 800-meter relay that finished eighth (1 minute, 46.26 seconds).
"As a sophomore (in the pole vault), she got hurt during the competition and just missed going to state," coach Greg King said. "That was one of the gutsiest performances I've ever seen. Before she got hurt she was (likely) going to go to the state meet and then she gets hurt and then I had to tell her, 'We need you to run the (800 relay).' Within four minutes, she was leaning over the block. One of the things about Karlee is that she's a great pole vaulter and she's a good sprinter, too.
"One of the other big things for Karlee is that the past two years we've had a volunteer pole vault coach who couldn't be there every day, especially for the dual meets, and (North) became essentially the assistant coach for pole vault. There were lots of practices and meets where I was there but it was really Karlee who was coaching her teammates."
North competed in gymnastics at the club level, reaching Level 9 status, before deciding to give up the sport before high school. But she believes her experience in gymnastics has helped her find success in the pole vault.
"I was a gymnast beforehand and one of my teammates had done (pole vault)," North said. "I thought it looked pretty cool and I wanted to try it. I kind of fell in love with it after that. (Gymnastics) definitely helped me a lot. It helped me understand the upside down of the pole vault and kind of jump-started my career. It helped me to get core stability and be able to flip upside down."
North, whose brother, Owen North, is a sophomore who competes in hockey and baseball, has committed to Grand Valley State.
Jerry Baltes has coached the program for 22 seasons and was named the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association National Women's Coach of the Year for 2020.
North is planning to study physical therapy.
"I liked getting to know the other girls in the pole-vault area and just getting to have fun with all my teammates over the years," North said. "I could see that (Grand Valley State) was my best fit and I really liked the coach and the team. It just felt right there."