Larisa Debich rising to the occasion...
At the time, it could hardly have been viewed as a watershed moment: an eighth-grader trying something new and – after being asked by her mother if she liked it – choosing to do it again tomorrow.
Story by Phil Grove
Photos by Marleen Van den Neste and Charles Stone
Four years later, Larisa Debich’s decision to come back for a second day of Pole Vault 101 continues to have local, state and even national consequences. The 5-foot, 4-inch Hempfield Area senior has been one of Pennsylvania’s highest flying since 2010, and is soaring even higher this year and will be competing in one of the top collegiate pole vaulting conferences next year.
“She’s got a really good feel of what she’s doing and what she needs to do,” coach Matt Fox said of Debich absorbing volumes of knowledge about the pole vault since her first try as an enthusiastic eight-grader. “If she needs to move her standards back, she kind of feels it. I keep an eye on her step and her standards, and let her know if she’s hitting it on the way up or way down.
“She’s got a really good feel of where she’s at in space. It’s pretty easy for her to make adjustments if we need to. She’s got a really good head for that.”
A gymnast since she was 3, Debich said her experience in the other discipline is invaluable when you are going skyward.
“Most people aren’t used to having their feet above their head … that’s what (a gymnast) does,” she said. “That’s gymnastics. So we’re used to that.”
After finishing the past two seasons in the top 30 nationally, Debich has clearly separated herself from just about everyone in 2012. Currently, the left-hander is the No. 4 vaulter in the country at 13 feet, 0.25 inches.
“She’s definitely had a really good run the past couple weeks – winning Penn Relays, winning the county and winning Baldwin – and her heights just keep getting better,” Fox said. “She’s just riding that out right now.”
During the aforementioned stretch, Debich had winning leaps of 12-5.5, 12-9 and then the 13-footer. Her PR performance at the Baldwin Invitational is almost a foot higher than her closest Keystone competitor, and she has registered winning efforts of at least 12-0 indoor and out since January 10.
“She jumps best when she’s relaxed, she really does,” Fox said. “When she’s loose and she’s joking around, that’s when she’s at her best. When she gets a little bit stressed; when she focuses too much, it kind of gets in her head a little bit. She’s having a great year, she’s loose, she’s relaxed. She’s just a fun kid to be around.”
The class of a large field at Baldwin, Debich said she got in some extra R and R before she entered the competition.
“After I warmed up, I went in my tent for 2.5 to 3 hours, kind of relaxed there and visualized a little bit,” she said of her routine at the site of Thursday’s WPIAL championship meet. “I came out, came in at 12-0 and I did fine.”
Although Debich said she focuses on what she is doing during a meet, Fox agreed that having strong competition at a nearby school (defending Class AAA state champion Kasey Kemp of Norwin) and on her team (No. 11 Lexi Masterson) has helped his 13-foot vaulter.
“It makes her want to rise to the challenge even more, get even more competitive,” Fox said of the benefits of the tough competition. “I think it brings out that much more of a competitive edge with her. She really thrives with that.”
During a trip last summer to Louisiana, Debich said she competed with and became friends with prep record holder Morgann LeLeux, who is starring as a freshman at Georgia.
“Her dad sent my videos to Georgia, Auburn and places she visited,” Debich said. “That’s kind of how I (connected and signed with Auburn). The vaulters (in the SEC) are insane.”
Despite all of the success in 2012, one thing remains – a state championship. A year ago, a quadricep injury left Debich not able to perform at her best, resulting in disappointment and a three-way tie for second. That followed another runner-up in 2010 and a ninth as a freshman.
“My goals are 13-3 at WPIALS, and then states, I just want to win this year,” she proclaimed. “I don’t care what height it is. I just want to win states.”