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Technique can take Pirate higher

The athleticism of Pasco sophomore Ben Alford makes him a favorite at today's district meet. Better technique might carry him to a state title.

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2001


photo
[Times photo: Dan McDuffie]
Pasco's Ben Alford hopes to contend for a state title in the next two years once he masters the sport's technical aspects.
DADE CITY -- He's not quite there yet. He has just started to grasp the intricate techniques of the sport. Physically, he has a lot of growing to do. There are countless hours of coaching, training and preparation still ahead.

Yet Pasco sophomore Ben Alford, one way or another, is already one of the area's best pole vaulters.

"In the beginning of the season I used more of my athleticism," he said. "Towards the middle of the season I've been using more technique to get higher."

He's a quick learner. His one loss of the season was when he took the runner-up ribbon at the Sunshine Athletic Conference meet earlier this month. Alford's leap of 11 feet, 6 inches was just behind the 12-foot vault of champion Mike Brock of River Ridge.

Alford was even more formidable a week later, clearing 13 feet with almost a foot to spare in practice last week. When the Class 2A, District 6 track meet begins today at Central's Bears Den Stadium, Alford will be the leading contender for the title. From there he should advance to the regionals and, he hopes, the state meet.

But if he doesn't make it this season, that's okay.

He has plenty of time to get there.

"He's experienced a lot of real success in the event," said Brian Woods, a former Pasco track coach and now an assistant at the University of Alabama who has been tutoring local vaulters like Alford and Brock.

"(Ben) is very motivated and the right fit for the event. I think he has unlimited potential. I think he's on track to win a state championship by his senior year. I could envision him somewhere around a height range of 15-6, 15-8."

The state record is 15-9.

What makes Alford such a good vaulter is what has made him one of the county's up-and-coming athletes. Natural athleticism has led the sophomore to start at quarterback for the varsity, play junior varsity basketball briefly and run the 1,600 meters in track as a freshman.

"I mean, he has that much potential," Woods said. "He's dynamic, he's got above-average speed and he's very athletic, so that's going to push him along in the event."

His attitude is also an asset, Pasco track coach Raven Lewis said.

"I've never seen him out of it yet," Lewis said. "He pushes himself to the max, he's always trying to go higher. He's got a happy-go-lucky spirit.

"As he learns, by the time he graduates he may be a 14, 15-foot jumper. He might be higher than that. It all depends if he works at it."

Attitude and hard work are invaluable because Alford knows how fickle an event the pole vault can be. Vaulters can lose their form, forget their grip, their footsteps, or just be baffled by a new pole at any time during the season.

"One day doesn't guarantee anything," Alford said. "One day you do good, the next day you do c---. Some days you got it, some days you don't."

And Alford's technical skills haven't caught up to his physical ones.

"Right now he's not a technician," Woods said. "He's going to have to become a technician."

"There's a lot of complications to it," Alford said. "I don't drive my knee as much as I should, though I'm getting pretty vertical. You've got to be at your fastest within 10 meters of the box, that way you can get vertical and get up."

Alford was inspired to take up the sport last year, watching former Pasco standout Sarah James, a state runner-up who earned a scholarship to Kansas.

But it's not like he needed the extra motivation.

"It's a challenging sport, it's complicated, hard," he said, "and it beats the mile."

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