Pole vaulters raise the bar: Redondo seniors Tate Curran and Kaitlin Heri set school records while becoming the second-best boy-girl combo in state history
by Randy Angel
Redondo Union High School, long known for its distance runners, has reached new heights in track and field with its pole vault program.
Redondo sent three pole vaulters to the CIF State Track & Field Championships in Clovis over the past weekend, led by a pair of seniors who helped revolutionize the sport at the school.
Although he reached only one of his two personal goals this season, l senior Tate Curran made history Saturday by capturing the boys pole vault title at the 99th annual State Meet.
Curran’s winning mark of 16 feet, 10 inches was six inches better than runner-up Lance Huber of Del Oro and completed a season-long goal of joining his uncle and father as a state champion in the sport.
Tim Curran won the title in 1973 and Tate’s father, Anthony, was a two-time champion in 1977 and 1978, setting a national record of 17-04 ¼ as a senior at Crespi High School.
“Winning the state championship meant more to me than most people because joining my dad and my uncle up there as a state champion is very special to me,” Tate said. “There has never been another father-son duo who have won a state championship in the same event in the history of California track and field.”
Unfortunately, Tate did not surpass his dad’s mark this season but came close with a personal-best 17-3 at the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 prelims on May 13.
“I obviously was disappointed not being able to reach that 17′ 4.5 mark at the state meet, but I know I can make that bar because I have had the hip height over that bar many times in the last couple meets,” Curran said. “It’s just a matter of time before I do accomplish that height and much more to come.”
Redondo also had two girls qualify for the pole vault competition at the State Meet, but Kaitlin Heri and Amari Turner did not advance from the prelims when both had vaults of 11-06. Palos Verdes’ Jacqueline Ahrens finished 7th at 12-8 and Mira Costa’s Brigette Grau placed 12th at 12-00.
“It’s an amazing and very special feeling to go to state,” Curran said. “Despite a good season last year, I was sub-par in the Division 1 prelims and did not qualify.”
Kaitlin Heri competed in her fourth consecutive State Championship in a season, after breaking her own school record, which she set as a freshman. Her vault of 12-9 in a dual meet with Mira Costa was the 7th-best in the state this season.
According to Prep Cal Track, Curran and Heri hold the second-best single-season boy-girl combined personal records in state history with 30 feet. Granite Bay’s Scott Roth (17-5) and Stephanie Bagan (13) hold the record with 30-5 set in 2006.
Heri’s protege, sophomore Amari Turner, also was a State qualifier in the girls pole vault, with a personal-best of 11-10 at the CIF-SS Masters Meet.
“We have been blessed with quite a few breakthrough athletes on our track team over the past few years,” Redondo head coach Bob Leetch said. “Tate Curran and Kaitlin Heri have been game changers since they joined the team, much the way Chloe Curtis changed the 1,600 locally for high school girls. These two have changed the local landscape of the pole vault in the way we see what’s possible.”
Much of the rise among local pole vaulters is credited to Tate’s father, Anthony, who runs No Limit Sports Track and Field Club. It offers a series of clinics and camps that work with athletes, ranging from middle school to Olympic level.
Anthony feels the success in pole vaulting at the high school level is because coaches, including Mira Costa’s Murray Mead and Peninsula’s Greg Miguel, work together for the betterment of the athletes and the sport.
“There is the great rapport among coaches,” Anthony said. “We know how difficult the sport is and how important the right pole is for the right meet. We often exchange poles with our competitors. We find that our athletes are kids who are daredevils and want to to be coached by people who know the sport.”
The two-time high school state champion is legendary at UCLA, where he is a volunteer pole vaulting coach. Anthony set a national record in 1978 with a mark of 17 feet, 4-1/4 inches while a senior at Crespi High School.
Along with capturing a State title, Tate hopes to eclipse his father’s mark. The bond between the two is tight and Anthony said he would like nothing more than to see Tate eclipse his mark.
“I’ve always idolized my dad. I have had so many goals in the past and almost every single one of them had to do with beating my dad,” Tate said. “Every year I’ve been jumping toward his high school records so my biggest goal this year has been to jump 17 feet 4-1/2 to top my old man.”
Tate owns virtually all of the top pole vault marks at Redondo and has come a long way since his top freshman vault of 13-9 gave him a sixth-place finish in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 finals.
Entering the State Championships, Curran had won 13 of 14 meets this season and had seven meet jumps of 17 feet or better.
“His mark of 17-3 was accomplished on the same day the Pac-12 Championship was won in 16-7,” Leetch explained. “This has not been lost on Tony Sandoval, head track coach at the University of California, who has offered Tate a track scholarship.”
An all-around athlete who played soccer, basketball, baseball and surfed as a youngster, Tate began taking pole vaulting seriously when he was six or seven years old.
“Baseball was my sport. I played in the Manhattan Beach Little League through 8th grade,” Curran said. “I then began to focus on pole vaulting, but surfing is my passion. I’d surf seven days a week if I could.”
Home-schooled for most of his life, Curran takes Independent Studies at Redondo High, allowing him to be eligible for the Sea Hawk’s track and field and surf teams.
“He’s the best surfer I’ve ever had on my team,” said Redondo surf coach Duncan Avery. “He’s such a talented athlete.”
Curran broke the school’s pole vault record as a sophomore with a mark of 15 feet and has kept improving, reaching 16-4 in his junior year.
“My final record should stand for years to come,” Curran said. “I look forward to returning to campus in the future and have athletes look up to me. There’s always a little pressure on me to ‘be the man,’ but I’ve accepted that role. It pumps me up and makes me better.”
Curran said his most memorable moment as a prep athlete came this season at the Redondo Nike Festival. His winning mark of 17 feet broke a 48-year-old record by a South Bay pole vaulter, topping Steve Smith (South Torrance) who cleared 16 feet, 8 ¾ inches in 1969.
“I had family drive down from Oregon and Washington,” Curran said. “To accomplish that at home in front of friends and family was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Curran said his mental toughness has been a key to his success.
“So many things can go wrong during a vault,” Curran explained. “I’ve improved my mental toughness which has allowed me to use bigger poles to reach higher levels.”
Curran looks forward to taking his talents to UC Berkeley in the fall.
“Cal contacted me and offered me a full scholarship with housing,” Curran said. “That’s tough to beat. I’ve always enjoyed taking Spanish so I’ll become a linguistics major.”
Competing in the Olympics is a dream of Curran’s but not one he dwells on.
“II just want to stay consistent and be successful,” he said. “I can even see myself becoming a pole vault coach after coach.”
Kaitlin Heri: four year record setter
Heri’s career in pole vaulting began with Anthony Curran after her 8th grade P.E. teacher Duncan Avery urged her to give the sport a try.
Avery, the Redondo High surf coach, had Tate Curran’s older sister Sara on his team. Sara, an accomplished pole vaulter in her own right who is currently attending San Diego State, was at surf practice one day when Avery began talking with her father.
“Anthony asked me if I had any good athletes in 8th grade that might want to try pole vaulting,” Avery recalled. “The following week, we had statewide fitness tests and Kaitlin Heri set the girls pushup record for that year with 55 so I introduced her to Anthony and the rest is history.”
Heri credits her athletic background as making the transition to pole vaulting easier.
“I decided to give it a try with Coach Curran. I had been a gymnast for 10 years and pole vaulting is similar to gymnastics,” Heri said. “It’s been quite a journey for me. Pole vaulting is not something just anybody does. It’s taken me to places I never dreamed I be.”
Leetch has been impressed with Heri’s improvement during her prep career
“Kait burst on the scene as a freshman with a vault of 12-feet-2 and made the State Championships,” Leetch recalled. “That’s very difficult for a gal to do without a track background. She owns the top 10 all-time marks at the school and is the model for our up-and-coming sophomore Amari Turner.”
Heri said she doesn’t think about the school record and just focuses on improving and topping her personal record. She does admit to feeling pressure during her senior year.
“I definitely felt pressure this season,” Heri said. “Last season I was injured after setting a personal record early in the year. I’ve been a little hurt this year too, but I know I can go higher. I’d like to clear 13 feet at State.”
Heri believes a combination of speed and upper-body strength is the key to being a successful pole vaulter.
“Speed is a huge factor which is what makes Rachel Baxter so good,” Heri said of the Canyon (Anaheim) senior who holds the top mark in the nation at 14-feet-4. Baxter is also one of Anthony Curran’s students at No Limits.
Heri said her biggest improvement has been on the technical side.
“I had no technique as a freshman,” Heri stated. “I think I was just a natural at the sport. I’ve been working hard on my plant and my swing.”
Although she has qualified for four State Championships and won six meets this season, including the Mustang Relays, South Bay Championships and Bay League Finals, Heri said her most memorable moment as a Sea Hawk came during her freshman year.
“It was at the Redondo Nike Meet. There were so many people there watching pole vault for a change. I cleared 12 feet and took first place. It was an amazing feeling.”
Heri acknowledges numerous people for her success, dating back to her days as a gymnast.
“I give a lot of credit to my gymnastics coaches Jerry Jackson and Felicia Johnson; Duncan Avery for getting me involved with pole vaulting; Redondo coaches Dave Dill and Stephen Kelley and, of course, Coach Curran,” Heri said. “He is the nicest person and always wants what’s best for his students, both on and off the field. Not all good pole vaulters become good coaches, but he has so much knowledge that when he suggests something new, we trust him.”
She also considers Tate Curran a mentor and believes he will be a great coach, someday.
Heri also thanks her parents Les and Brooke.
“They give me so much support and are there at every meet,” Heri said. “When I began visiting colleges, they let me go on my own, not wanting to sway my opinion. That feeling of independence and their trust meant a lot to me.”
Uncertain about her future as a college athlete, Heri began a GoFundMe page early in January. One of her first donors was Tate Curran.
She has since committed to San Diego State, after trips to UCLA, Arkansas and Washington State.
“I really like Brad Walker, the coach at Washington State,” she said. “But my visit was during a snowstorm and, being a California girl, I didn’t know if I could handle the winters so I chose to go to college where it’s warmer.”
Heri, who works two jobs in addition to her school work and athletic commitments, is planning to major in business.
“I would like to become a lawyer but there are so many options with a business degree that if becoming a lawyer doesn’t work out, I’ll have something to fall back on,” she said.
by Randy Angel