ROTTERDAM — Pole vaulting is an event that few athletes try, even fewer stay with and only a small handful are able to master with its numerous components and the strength and mentality it requires.
Mohonasen girls' track and field coach Bill Sherman knows just how fortunate he is to have not just one of them who has soared to that upper echelon, but two, in Lena Calkins and Emily Racana.
"It's almost an automatic 18 points at an invitational or championship meet," Sherman said of having the 18-year-olds as part of his team. "It's years of hard work that put them there."
Calkins and Racana have been pole vaulting since they were in seventh grade, getting their first instruction from Nicole Zablotny, a science teacher at Mohonasen who competed in the event while at the University at Albany.
"There were five of us," Calkins said. "After the first week, it was just the two of us."
The 18-year-olds will be in the medal hunt Saturday at the William F. Eddy Jr. Memorial Track and Field Meet at Schenectady High School, where a year ago on a rainy day, they both cleared 10 feet; based on jumps, Calkins took third and Racana finished fourth.
Calkins has gone as high as 11-3 both outdoors and indoors — both Mohonasen records — and Racana's bests are 10-6 outdoors and 10-9 indoors.
"I looked back to 2000 on the Harrier website [Section II's result and record archive] and they are the best duo our area has had," Sherman said. "To have that at a school our size, to be able to count on that, is outstanding."
Calkins remembers her first competitive pole vault effort, in a dual meet with Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, when she was thrilled to clear 6-foot-6.
"It takes a lot to get better," said Calkins, who will compete on athletic scholarship at Division I East Carolina. "You have to be committed. You really have to put in the effort. Everyone can run, but this doesn't magically happen. It takes a lot of work outside of practice."
"I remember starting," said Racana, who has committed to Springfield College, and, like Calkins, will study physical therapy. "I fell in love with it because it's fun, and I wanted to get better. Slowly, that happened. You can't rush it. You've got to be comfortable."
And you've got to have a special mentality.
"You can't be scared," Racana said.
"The thing that separates those who fly is the fear factor," Sherman said. "In order to fly, you need to ride a pole and go upside down when everything in your brain is telling you not to."
Racana and Calkins had some experience in that before they joined the track and field team. Racana was involved in gymnastics and Calkins had been a cheerleader.
"It's about body control," Sherman said. "If you can flip and twist in the air, that gives you the physical properties. Then you've got to add the pole vault elements."
In doing so, Calkins and Racana have earned many individual medals while helping Mohonasen emerge as one of Section II's powerhouse mid-size teams. The Mighty Warriors won the last two Section II Division III indoor championships when Calkins and Racana went 1-2 both times, and this past winter Mohonasen earned the Colonial Council championship when Racana placed first ahead of Calkins.
On Tuesday, Mohonasen clinched the Colonial Council outdoor title, and Calkins took first ahead of Racana.
"When we won the girls' [indoor] sectional championship two years ago, pole vaulting was on the first day," Sherman said. "We came out with 18 points and never looked back. That does something to the psyche of the other teams."
Calkins and Ranaca were consistent point-getters this spring during Mohonasen's unbeaten Colonial Council dual meet season (Mohonasen also won Suburban Council Grey Division outdoor dual titles in 2017 and 2018). At the Bethlehem Lady Eagles Invitational and New Paltz Invitational, Calkins placed first and Racana was second, while at Niskayuna's Warriors Classic and Colonie Relays, Racana took the top spot and Calkins was second.
"Coach has always called us the 'dynamic duo,'" Racana said. "He wants to keep the legacy going."
Racana and Calkins do, too. They often spend part of their practice time working with Mohonasen's younger pole vaulters.
"Mohonasen is known for pole vaulting now," Sherman said. "They're committed to training the next group of pole vaulters. It's their way of giving back to the school."