Ando hopes to vault her way to gold
Emily Ando is arguably the best pole vaulter in the Nutmeg State when she's on her game.
A captain for the Weston girls indoor and outdoor track team before graduating in June, she is the three-time pole vaulting Class S champion in indoor track and won the Class M. State Open and New England championship pole vaulting titles in outdoor track this spring.
"It was just a lot of hard work, dedication and love for the sport," Ando said.
Her success in the pole vault contributed to Weston's hegemony over the SWC in which it won five straight titles in both indoor track and outdoor track titles. The Lady Trojans haven't settled for second at SWCs since 2005 when Ando was in seventh grade.
"Dedication, hard work and all the attributes you have in a fine athlete led to Emily's success," Weston Coach Matt Medve said. "She's a fine athlete and strives to be the best she could be in the pole vault. She put in a variety of hours not just in pole vaulting but in weight training so she can get to the next level."
The hard work paid off for Ando, who was highly recruited and will compete for Division I Bucknell University for the next four years. She is expected to do for Bucknell what she did for the Lady Trojans because of her desire to do well and her toughness.
"Emily is the kind of athlete every coach wants their kid to be," Weston assistant coach Tim Drummond, who coaches the pole vaulters, said. "Speed, strength and kinetic awareness make her the great performer that she is. She's a tremendous athlete mentally as well as physically, which sets her apart from everyone else. She was focused, aware and balanced and was mature athletically in taking critiques well. She enjoyed what she did and was serious about it."
Learning how to pole vault is challenging because there's so many skills involved in sticking this type of jump. Her athleticism and intelligence helped her master the necessary skills towards executing it successfully.
"It definitely comes from great coaching," Ando said. "Medve and Drummond helped me learn it and it came from my own love for it and I was willing to put in the time to get better."
She holds many records, including the SWC championship meet record for both seasons, and the State Open record for outdoor track. Her personal best is 12-feet for the indoor season and 12-.25 for the outdoor season.
Medve first convinced Ando to try the pole vault while she attended Weston Middle School. Freshman year, she was on the Lady Trojan ski team during the winter before making her first foray as a pole vaulter during the spring.
"He thought I'd be good at it, I tried it and I fell in love with it," she recalled. "I didn't know I'd love track as much as I did."
Sophomore year, Ando hung up her skis and joined the indoor track team, which was when she began her meteoric rise as a pole vaulter. Her studious nature helped her develop in the event.
"When I first started, I was a little nervous, but now, I don't get nervous and it's more excitement," Ando said. "Everyone gets nervous once in awhile but I overcome it with practice. I think of specific things I need to work on and I always go into a meet with a positive attitude. I focus on what I was taught in practice."
One distinction Ando holds is that she always cleared height. Most pole vaulters have at least one no-height but she conscientiously made sure it didn't happen to her.
"No one wants to no-height," Ando said. "I always focused and made sure I cleared my first jump. It's the drive of competition. I don't like to lose and it pushes me."
At the National Outdoor Track championships, the minimum height to clear was 11-feet, which didn't faze her.
"It was challenging but I just made sure I focused and cleared height," Ando said.
Ando placed 20th at Nationals by leaping 11-4, which she wasn't please with because she felt she could have done better.
Bad days happen in all walks of life and track isn't an exception to this rule. When it happens to Ando, she remains undaunted by it and is grateful to have the support of her teammates.
"Usually, I don't only pole vault and if I have a bad day in one event, I don't let it affect me in other events," she said. "I always got along with everyone and we push each other to do well."
In addition to pole vaulting, Ando did the high jump and won it in Class S in indoor track and the 100-meter high hurdles, where she placed third in outdoor track at the SWC championships. She is expected to do both events for the Bison as well.
"I was nervous because racing was new to me," she said. "I just worked at it and got better at it."
Ando also did the long jump this winter. Although she felt she wasn't good at it, she placed third at the Class S indoor championships this winter and second at SWCs.
During the fall, she played soccer for Weston, a sport she played since her formative years. She was a force at fullback for the Lady Trojans and won many battles with opposing forwards.
"I just love the sport and I got better as the years went by," Ando said. "I always played it growing up and I grew into the position. My strength and athleticism helped and my height helped a little bit as well."
She's 5-10 and also played basketball growing up before switching sports in high school.
Leadership is a strength of hers as she served as captain, leading by example through her work ethic and verbally by encouraging her teammates.
"It was a great responsibility and nice to have this leadership role," Ando said. "It was a good way to help the younger kids."
Academically, she was an honors student at Weston. English and science are her favorite subjects.
"I've always been good at schoolwork and I hope to do well here," Ando said.
In order to do well for Bucknell, she has to raise her performance a few levels because the competition will be tougher. She's determined to do so and has set lofty goals for herself.
"It will be a new experience with new coaches and it's a matter of growing and maturing," Ando said. "Hopefully, I'll get better and better. Definitely, my goal is to win the Patriot League championship and I'll see where I go from there."
Medve is confident she can win the Patriot League title.
"Emily will do well and she'll be one of the best vaulters in her conference," he said. "Obviously, she has the tools to be a conference champion and it's a matter of how things work out for her."
If Ando continues to improve, she could become an Olympic qualifier and win a medal at the Olympics.
"That would be amazing," she said. "I'll have to see where my experience takes me and if I do it, it will be great."
Some feel that the best is yet to come for Ando. Most people feel she'll excel for the Bison and the question is, will she take it a step or two further.
"Emily will do well at Bucknell," Drummond said. "I know she loves the sport and works hard at it. I look forward to see her college meets. If she continues to grow and get stronger and faster, she can do something special. She hasn't peaked yet."