Pole vaulters Braun and Greenleaf awarded All-West honors

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Melissa Braun (junior) flies high during a Saturday morning track and field pole vault practice at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Mar. 24, 2018. Spruce Bohen/The Occidental
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The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Track and Field Coaches Association awarded pole vaulters Melissa Braun (junior) and Zachary Greenleaf (junior) All-West honors earlier this month for their performances Feb. 16 at the indoor Northern Arizona University (NAU) Tune Up meet in Flagstaff, Arizona. According to Rob Bartlett, head coach of track and field and cross country, the Coaches Association named the students to the indoor All-West team for ranking within the top five indoor height records in the West region.

Zach Greenleaf (junior) clears a 16 foot bungee during a Saturday morning pole vault practice at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 24, 2018. Spruce Bohen/The Occidental.

Bartlett said that he decided to take the two pole vaulters to the NAU indoor meet after they both performed well in the team’s opening meet of the season, a dual meet against rivals Pomona-Pitzer Feb. 10.

“They both in that meet had lifetime-best performances, and so we wanted to reward the fact that they were in such good form early in the season and give them an opportunity to try and qualify for the indoor division three national championships,” Bartlett said. “And the nearest meet we could go to was in Flagstaff, so we took them to Flagstaff the following weekend.”

Despite the All-West honors, neither athlete qualified for indoor nationals.

“They both did well enough in Flagstaff to rank high enough to be named to the All-West region team but neither of them were ranked high enough nationally to qualify for the division three national meet and the indoor season came to a close two weeks ago,” Bartlett said.

Greenleaf said that he was happy with how he competed at the NAU meet. His highest vault at the meet was 15 feet 7 inches. According to Braun, her highest vault was 11 feet, significantly lower than her personal record of 12 feet 1.5 inches, which she first jumped last season at a Pomona-Pitzer Invitational Occidental hosted April 8.

Braun said that the meet was difficult for her and that the altitude may have been a factor. NAU sits 7,000 feet above sea level.

“Competing at altitude was definitely a new experience and I learned a lot from it, and if I were to do it again I would have a better idea of what to do going into it,” Braun said.

Both Greenleaf and Braun have been performing at a high level since they came to Occidental, according to Bartlett. Greenleaf won the Southern California Interscholastic Athletic Conference (SCIAC) as a first year and placed second as a sophomore. Braun placed second as a first year and tied for third as a sophomore.

“They’ve been our best pole vaulters, both of them really since the moment they arrived on campus, two and a half years ago now,” Bartlett said. “They’re both hard-working, both had some significant success within the conference. They’ve both incrementally been getting a little better, too, as they’ve gone through their Occidental career.”

Greenleaf said he is hoping to win SCIAC again this season.

“For the rest of the season, right now I’m hoping to win the SCIAC championship again,” Greenleaf said. “And then I’m also hoping to qualify for outdoor nationals for the first time.”

Zach Greenleaf (junior) pole vaults in practice with bungees set between 16 and 17 feet off of the ground, though they will be lowered during competition, typically to 15 to 16 feet at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Mar. 24, 2018 . Spruce Bohen/The Occidental

Braun said she would like to become Occidental’s pole vault record-holder by the end of the season. The current record, which Kera Bartlett ’09 set in 2008, is 12 feet 8 inches.

“I would love to be on the top of the Oxy all-time board by the end of this year, which I think is very achievable, I just have to have a good meet, that’s all,” Braun said.

According to Braun, she will try to achieve the record mostly by setting goals for her form and technique, instead of setting height goals.

“I have some height goals, but for me in the past I’ve just found it’s better for me to focus on smaller goals that will help me achieve a certain height, and I don’t want to limit myself by setting a specific height goal where maybe I could go higher than that,” Braun said.

Braun said that one of her technique goals is to get more comfortable using a new type of pole. She said she has always used a carbon fiber pole until this year when she switched to the more standard fiberglass pole. The other technique she would like to improve is her acceleration in her run-up. Braun said that she ran the 100-meters in high school and as a first year at Occidental. She said that when she runs a 100, she reaches a higher top speed than she does in her pole vault run-up; in the future, she would like to translate her 100-meter speed to her run-up.

Bartlett said he thinks that Braun and Greenleaf are now close to becoming some of the top Division III pole vaulters in the nation if they make outdoor nationals and potentially become All-Americans by placing in the top eight at nationals.

“I think we’re hoping that this year is when they make the transition from being good athletes for our team and for the conference to being some of the better athletes in the nation at the Division III level,” Bartlett said.