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JEFF GRITCHEN , STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Canyon pole vaulter Rachel Baxter is the Register's Orange County girls track and field athlete of the year.

O.C. girls track athlete of the year: Canyon's Rachel Baxter

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Some might look back and call Canyon’s Rachel Baxter a pioneer.

Before this season, the altitudes the Comanches junior achieved were considered a no-fly zone for California’s girls pole vaulters.

Baxter went for it all right from the start, taking down records left, right and vertically.

She began by taking down the Orange County record. By the time she was finished, she had broken the state record, added to it, and completed an undefeated season.

For soaring to new heights, Baxter has been selected by the Register as Orange County’s girls track and field athlete of the year.

Winning a state title seemed more likely for Baxter at last year’s CIF State championships. Baxter placed second to two-time state champion Kaitlyn Merritt of Santa Margarita that night, and she knew she could be the next one to carry the torch of state leader.

Baxter didn’t take anything for granted. She recognized that others would improve.

“I knew that I still had to work hard because there were so many girls right behind me that were just amazing,” Baxter said. “I never thought, ‘I’ve got this in the bag. This is mine.’

“There were so many other girls that were so good, and I knew that I would be pushed if I were to get this title.”

Indeed, she was right. Others tested her at this year’s CIF State meet. With three vaulters over the bar at 13 feet, 8 inches, Baxter had to make it over 14-2, the highest clearance ever required to win a state title.

Mater Dei’s McKenna Caskey was one of those final three. Baxter found the competition thrilling, and she looks forward to future battles with the Monarchs’ rising senior.

“It (applied) that pressure…knowing that she has jumped those bars,” Baxter said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun next year to see how far both of us can go.”

While Baxter points to the 2015 state meet as a critical point for her, there are those that believe that she turned the corner earlier that season. Baxter’s pole vaulting coach, BJ Vandrovec, says her awakening came at the Orange County Championships a year ago.

“That was a defining moment for her toughness,” Vandrovec said. “In the rain, in the jump-off against the Orange County queen of pole vault, Kaitlyn Merritt.

“There was a point in the jump-off where we had to go to a stiffer pole. In the rain, that’s a really risky move.”

The young Comanche won that day. She has made a habit of winning since, often in convincing fashion.

At the Triton Invitational, Baxter broke Merritt’s county record with a clearance of 13 feet, 10 inches. It also set the new national standard for the 16-and-under age group.

Baxter jumped 14 feet, 2 inches to break Tori Anthony’s state record at the Arcadia Invitational. Anthony had held the record for nearly a decade, having jumped 14 feet, 1¼ inch for Castilleja of Palo Alto in 2007.

Baxter added another inch to her lifetime best at the Orange County Championships, the meet where many believe her remarkable run began.


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