MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - By the time she was in middle school, Kate Kaufman had played seven sports. But one by one, through her early high school years, she gave each of them up to focus on what she believed was her best chance at a college scholarship as a track and field athlete, concentrating on the pole vault.
With that ambition already accomplished by signing to vault for Virginia, Kaufman reached her second goal Thursday afternoon at Middle Tennessee State University by winning her first state championship. She cleared 11 feet, 6 inches to claim the Division II title after finishing third last year.
"I realized by about eighth grade that I loved pole vaulting more than anything, so it really wasn't that tough to give up some of the other sports," said Kaufman, who through the years gave up basketball, diving, gymnastics, soccer, softball and volleyball. "Obviously it worked out for me, and today is one of the most incredible feelings I've ever had. It's what I've aimed for all season and really is the cherry on top of everything. It's a great way to end my prep career.
"I had to stay positive because I had struggled in qualifying last week, and sometimes I'm tougher on myself mentally than anyone."
At the opposite end of the pole-vault experience spectrum, Chattanooga Christian junior Nicolette Gordon won the Class A/AA title in her first year of competing, clearing a personal-best 12 feet, well ahead of second-place finisher and CCS teammate Sydney Ibach's 8-6. Gordon's winning vault was just three inches short of tying the state record.
"I'm incredibly happy, especially considering this is my first year to compete in this event," said Gordon, who took up the sport less than a year ago after two knee surgeries from gymnastics injuries. "My goal today was to clear 12 feet, so to do that and win the state title is awesome."
After the disappointment of last spring, when a badly sprained right ankle prevented her from competing, Cleveland's Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad ended her prep career on the same MTSU track where she will compete in college, finishing second in the Class AAA long jump at 18 feet, 3.5 inches despite having to jump off her left foot because her right ankle is still weak. She finished third in the triple jump, an event in which she had never competed until two weeks ago at the sub-sectional.
"It's tough having to learn to jump from my off foot," said Abdullah-Muhammad, who had a potential winning leap in the long jump disqualified for narrowly stepping over the line. "I'm really disappointed with how the long jump ended, because I didn't think I scratched. But the official said I did, so I'll settle for second.
"This time last year I was worried that my track career might be over, so really I'm just happy that I woke up this morning and could walk and compete, unlike last year. My ankle is still bothering me and we'll have to see whether the doctors still think I need surgery this summer."
Baylor's Selena Popp finished second in the D-II high jump and was fourth in the triple jump, while Signal Mountain's Camryn Bowman took second in the A/AA discus and McMinn County's Simone Hicks was third in shot put.
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.