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O.C. Girls Athlete of the Year: Canyon's Rachel Baxter
It’s OK for Rachel Baxter to act like she is above everyone else, because she is.
Baxter, a junior pole vaulter at Canyon, has gone higher than any girl in California high school sports history. At the Orange County Championships in March, she set the state record by clearing 14 feet, 3 inches. By a full inch, she broke the record that had been set two weeks previous - by Baxter.
That 14-3 also is the best high school mark in the nation this school year.
She has soared to the top in her sport and in the Orange County high school sports world, as Baxter has been selected the Register’s Orange County female athlete of the year.
Baxter was a CIF-Southern Section champion this season. She won the Division 2 title with a clearance of 13-3. While that was not close to her county and state record, it was four inches higher than the second-place finisher.
She qualified for the CIF State Track and Field Championships for the second year in a row, and won the title with a clearance of 14-2.
And to think Baxter had not even attempted the pole vault until two years ago. Canyon track and field coach Joe Wiley asked the then-freshman if she was interested.
“I’d seen the pole vault on TV and at a couple of meets, and it looked like it would be a lot of fun,” Baxter said. “I was a gymnast for 11 years. I like flying through the air.”
While also competing in the 100 meters and the high jump and participating on the 400 freshman relay team, Baxter cleared 10-6 in the pole vault her freshman year.
The bar kept getting higher in Baxter’s sophomore year. She won the Division 2 pole vault championship with a height of 13-1. Baxter finished second in the state meet with a clearance of 13-3 that equaled her personal best set a couple of months earlier at the Orange County Championships.
She qualified for the United States track and field team that competed in the World Youth Championships in Colombia.
All of this from a 5-foot-4 athlete in a discipline perhaps better suited to the long-limbed.
“It is a slight disadvantage because I’m shorter than some,” Baxter said. “That just means I have to be faster and stronger than everyone else.”
Her private coach, B.J.Vandrovec of the Victory Athletics track and field club, said Baxter’s speed on her approach is part of what makes her successful.
“She’s fast and she’s fearless,” Vandrovec said. “And she’s consistent. Once something clicks in for her, she remembers it and remembers how to keep doing it.”
Baxter’s pole vault success is going to bring college scholarship opportunities. She has no goal schools yet. Baxter is not looking beyond this summer, which will keep her busy with a few national meets and maybe some international competition, too.
Down the road, she hopes to clear 14-8, which would be a national high school record, and maybe even 15 feet.
“We’ve discussed the 15-foot barrier and the national record,” Vandrovec said. “Really, though, we rarely talk about numerical goals. We make sure it’s about technical goals and weight-room goals and about just being a 17-year-old kid.”
This 17-year-old kid keeps setting those goals high. She jumped over plenty of them this school year and landed with the county female athlete of the year award.
“There are so many great athletes in Orange County,” Baxter said, “and for me to be on the top, that’s crazy.”
She has a good view from there.
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