Editor’s Note: Four pole vaulters from the R-J coverage area won state class championships. Heading into the State Open we’ll profile them, starting with Sheehan’s Stephanie Phoenix.
WALLINGFORD – Last Friday was a long night for Sheehan pole vaulter Stephanie Phoenix, and it’s one she won’t soon forget.
The senior’s last attempt in the CIAC Class M championship meet came around 10:30 p.m.
Winners had been decided in every other event. Hillhouse had been crowned team champion. Much of New Haven’s Floyd LIttle Athletic Center had cleared out.
Through the silence, Phoenix rose above the bar at 10 feet, 6 inches. With that vault, Phoenix matched her school record and collected the Class M state championship.
“Everyone was just talking about how tired they were,” Phoenix said of the competition, which had been delayed by an officiating issue. “Some girls felt like they were falling asleep. But I told myself, ‘You got to get up and get in the right mind set.”
Phoenix cleared 10-6 on her third and final attempt, breaking a tie with Branford’s Bridget Wirtz.
“I was up before her on my last attempt and I wanted that state championship so bad, and I did it,” Phoenix said. “The second I knew I was over the bar, I just screamed ‘Yes!’
“I was holding in the cheers after that. Most of the teams had left. The only people there were our team and the Branford team.’
Phoenix said it was unusual to compete in silence, as opposed to having the typical chaos of several events going on around her. After Phoenix won, her teammates and fans filled the building with noise.
“I just heard everyone screaming,” Phoenix said. “Then I got off the mat and starting hugging everyone.”
It was Phoenix’s first state crown. She finished third at 10 feet in Class MM last spring in the outdoor season, behind Wirtz.
Phoenix has been pole vaulting since her sophomore year and has benefited from a background in gymnastics.
“When I first started, instead of going over the bar I had the tendency to go under the bar,” Phoenix said. “The fact that I went from going under the bar to winning the state championships is really amazing.”
Last year, Phoenix broke out and shattered the previous school record of 8-6 with a 9-6. Last summer, she went to a pole vault camp in Pennsylvania and did more work in the offseason and added another foot to her record.
“I’ve been striving for this moment for a year now,” she said. “I coudn’t tell you how I did it. It even shocked me that I got up that high.”
Phoenix, 17, has improved on her speed and added that the sport just makes her happy. She takes the No. 5 seed into Saturday’s State Open back at the Floyd Little Athletic Center.
Sheehan coach Charles Farley, who has coached several pole vaulting state champions over the years, said he’s been impressed with Phoenix’s devotion to the sport.
“She’s very dedicated,” Farley said. “She’s been to camps and has been taking lessons for a couple of years. She’s very serious about it and has a good sense of what is going on. She’s also not afraid when she’s out there. She likes to succeed and that is a good combination.”