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Fitch pole vaulter Madison Skelly sets the bar high

By the end of her eighth-grade season, she set the Austintown Middle School record at 7 feet, 8 inches, eclipsing the old mark by 8 inches.

AUSTINTOWN — A love of vaulting in gymnastics has led Fitch High School senior Madison Skelly to a pole vaulting scholarship at Youngstown State University.

Skelly, who finished eighth in the Division I state tournament in June, said she was an eighth-grader when a friend from gymnastics, Caitlyn Trebella, encouraged her to try pole vaulting.

“I competed in gymnastics for about nine years,” Skelly said.

Trebella, then a pole vaulter for Girard High School, spent the past four seasons at YSU, finishing fourth last spring in the outdoor Horizon League Championship meet.

Skelly thought Trebella’s feat “was cool — I want to do that.”

Pole vaulting is not for the meek. Was she afraid to try?

“Not really,” Skelly said with a laugh. “I just thought it would be fun.”

Her first attempt?

“Obviously, it wasn’t very good, but it didn’t scare me at all,” Skelly said.

Skelly’s secret is that the event she enjoyed most in gymnastics was the vault.

“Running full speed at a stable object, I don’t know,” she chuckled away suggestions of fear.

Her parents — Steve and Julie — were supportive from the start.

“I had always said that it was something I would want to do,” said Skelly, who also competed in cross country and high jump as a freshman and sophomore.

Her dad, who played football at Fitch, told her to try.

Skelly’s first success came at clearing 5 feet. By the end of her eighth-grade season, she set the Austintown Middle School record at 7 feet, 8 inches, eclipsing the old mark by 8 inches.

Her pole vaulting success has limited her opportunities to compete in other events. Competition begins early in meets, but the better pole vaulters, she said, wait for the bar to begin rising.

“It depends on the starting height,” Skelly said. “Usually, they start varsity meets at 8 feet, and I don’t come in until 10-6 now.

“So I have to wait until [the other competitors reach that height],” she said. “So I’m pretty much [tied up for] the whole meet — it takes a while.”

She prepares before each meet by running two laps, then stretching.

Pole vaulting is a year-round part of her life. In the offseason, she trains twice a week in Wooster for two hours.

“An hour-and-a-half drive each way,” she said, adding that she’s become proficient at doing homework in the car.

Skelly feels the time invested “has paid off. I’ve always enjoyed [pole vaulting], thought it was fun.” 

Varsity success came in implements. As a freshman, she finished fourth in the district tournament to qualify for the regional tournament.

“I ended up not clearing any bar because the starting height was above anything I had ever cleared before [9 feet],” Skelly said of her first regional tournament.

That setback motivated her “to work extremely hard.”

It worked. As a sophomore, she again earned a regional berth, this time clearing 9-8.

Last spring, Skelly won the district and regional tournaments to qualify for Columbus.

“That was crazy,” she said of her third regional. “All I wanted to do was place fourth [to qualify for state].

“Placing first was absolutely unbelievable.”

At Ohio State University’s complex, Skelly finished eighth to earn a spot on the podium with her personal best — 11-6.

“I wasn’t expecting to place there, either,” Skelly said, calling the state meet atmosphere intense. “There is so much stuff going on all at once, and all you can try and do is focus on what you are doing.”

Max Prizant was her pole vaulting coach at Fitch last season. Dave Mackey is her club coach in Wooster.

She suffered a knee injury in the state meet, which has slowed her offseason workouts.

“We’ve been on-and-off training,” Skelly said. “A couple of weeks ago, I was [back] at [clearing] 10-6 so it shouldn’t take long to get back.”

She’s thrilled she will go from being a Falcon to a Penguin.

“I considered other schools, but YSU was my main [choice] because they had the program that I want — physical therapy,” she said. “They checked off every box on my list.”

Her goal is to become a physical therapist specializing in sports.

Skelly’s favorite subject is science, something she admits she has not always been content with studying.

“Right now, it’s chemistry,” she said, crediting teacher Chris Johnson. “It’s fun. I was never good with science.”

Other favorites are anatomy and physiology.

Jared Hubicsak, her freshman algebra teacher, stands out as a favorite teacher for inspiring her.

“It’s not just about the algebra part — he always wanted to know what was going on,” she said, adding that he offered encouragement by asking how track meets went.

“He was always there for his students,” Skelly said. “He pushed me [to excel].”

Hubicsak  also is her Link Crew leader, a group of students who mentor incoming freshmen.