Pole vaulters jump to new heights

Branson Ellis, a sophomore from Tyler, and Kaylee Bizzell, a senior from Golden, placed first at the Southland Conference Indoor Championship. Ellis jumped a height of 5.62m at the meet. He cleared a height of 5.80m, which is an Olympic standard jump, at the Toyota USATF Indoor Championship. It also set the record for the SLC and SFA. At the same meet, Bizzell achieved the fourth highest jump in the NCAA with a height of 4.50m. Both athletes will compete at the NCAA Indoor Championship March 13-14 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

SFA’s Track and Field team was represented by pole vaulters senior Kaylee Bizzell and sophomore Branson Ellis at the USA Track and Field Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They both left setting records and personal bests.

Bizzell, a senior from Golden, set a new personal best by clearing 4.50m, which tied the fourth best mark in the NCAA and finished seventh overall. She took first in the Southland Conference Indoor Championship last week with a 4.07m jump and was awarded All-SLC honors.

“This has definitely been the best season yet,” Bizzell said. “I’m soaking in my senior year. Nursing school’s cooled down a little bit; and now, I’m focusing on track a lot, and I’ve had a pretty good year. I’m excited for the next few meets and outdoor.”

Ellis, the reigning SLC champion, cleared 5.80m (19 ft -0.25in.) on his sixth jump of the day. The jump set both SLC and SFA indoor records and was an Olympic standard jump. He finished the event in second place and was named the SLC Men’s Field Athlete of the Week.

“It was very humbling,” Ellis said. “It was because I know that not everybody is able to do that, and just the fact that I got an opportunity and the chance to do that really meant a lot to me.”

While it was a jump that made several records, SFA volunteer assistant coach Jeff Erickson claims it was expected, considering Ellis’ performance in practice.

“We pretty much knew it was coming,” Erickson said. “It wasn’t really a shock to us that much because we see it every day.”

Ellis, an agricultural engineering major who attended Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler, began pole vaulting his sophomore year. He was a three-time state qualifier in Class 6A where he won the silver medal the first year and won the gold medal the next two. Ellis also set the Texas Class 6A record his senior year by clearing 18 feet and 31⁄4 inches. However, even before taking up pole vaulting, Ellis competed in gymnastics.

“When I was in gymnastics, my coach took me about as far as he knew, and I stopped progressing because we didn’t know what to do after that,” Ellis said. “I eventually stopped doing that.”

But, it was one day during biology class that would change Ellis’ life.

“I was in biology class one day, and my teacher was the pole vault coach,” Ellis said. “He came up to me and asked me how gymnastics was going, and I told him I had just quit. He told me to wear shorts the next day and meet him after school on the track. He handed me a pole and said, ‘Have at it.’ After that first jump, I knew I made the best mistake of my life. I knew that it had just drawn me into something that I couldn’t get away from.”

With this being Bizzell’s senior season, one of the things she will miss the most is the friendships.

“I’ve made so many friends through track,” Bizzell said. “Just being with the pole vaulters every day and my friends on the track team and travelling to meets, it’s become a family to me.”

One of the main goals for the remainder of season and career for Ellis is to keep up with the other athletes who will keep jumping higher and breaking records.

“I just want to be right along there with them, be doing it with them and get to have those memories and those achievements,” Ellis said.

With the 2020 Sumer Olympics looming, both pole vaulters have a goal to possibly compete in the games by competing in the Olympic trials.

“That’s what I’m going for,” Bizzell said. “It’d be really cool to be there with Branson and Jen jumping.”

“That’s been my end goal ever since I was a little kid,” Ellis said. “I was a gymnast for about five years, and I always told my parents that one day I want to be in the Olympics. I really don’t care what it’s for. It’s always been my life goal is to do that; and now that I’m actually seeing that it’s possible, it’s just overwhelming.”

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