McKenna Downey didn’t have a chance to pole vault in any of Columbus East’s five home track and field meets this season because of an issue with the Olympians’ landing mats.

But when she’s been able to vault, she’s made the most of her opportunities. The junior won the pole vault in a dual meet and Columbus North and has vaulted 9 feet in all four of the Olympians’ away meets this season.

“Last year, she was ready to have a breakthrough, and then the season came to an end,” East coach Glen Brown said. “So she worked over the winter pretty hard with drills and with our pole vault coach (Kendra Bosecker) and went to a clinic. She has put a lot of work into it in the offseason when you can’t vault very much. Her technique has gotten a lot better.”

After running sprints and middle distance as a freshman, Downey gave pole vaulting a try last season. She cleared 7-0.

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But when coaches pulled the pole vault mats out of storage this spring, they discovered they had been flattened by the new high jump mats which were stored on top of them. The pole-vault mats didn’t recover.

“They don’t have very much give to them, so you can still jump in them, but if you jump from too high, you’re going to hit the ground,” Brown said. “They just don’t have that recoil. We can do some drills and things like that. We just can’t go very high.”

As a result, the Olympians have not been able to contest the pole vault at their home meets this season.

Downey is still able to practice, however. She sometimes tries to vault at 11-0 or 12-0.

“It’s probably not the safest, but it’s doable,” Downey said. “It’s just a liability to have other teams vaulting on it.”

Tonight, Downey could be among the contenders to finish second behind defending state champion Maddie Holland of Madison in the Hoosier Hills Conference meet at Seymour. She was close to clearing 9-6 in last week’s dual meet at Brown County and hopes to make 10-0 this season.

Downey, who also played soccer for the first time last fall, wants to pole vault at Indiana University after her career at East is finished.

“With pole vaulting, it’s kind of like something just clicks overnight, and I guess it clicked for me,” Downey said. “A lot of it is technique and muscle memory. Supposedly, you should be able to close your eyes and be able to vault the same as you would with your eyes open.”

If you go

What: Hoosier Hills Conference girls meet

When: 6 p.m. today

Where: Seymour High School

Teams: Columbus East, Jennings County, Bedford North Lawrence, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, Madison, New Albany, Seymour

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.