When College fourth-year Grace Finney is not mentoring first-years through the Peer Advising Leader program, and College second-year Sarah Voit is not working on the Solarity board, they are pole vaulters on the varsity women’s track and field team, regularly sailing over nine feet through the air. A mighty duo, both have brought the team prestige through their success at meets.
With track season starting this week, both are energized to get back into competition — in part due to watching the success of their teammates on the varsity women’s cross country team as well as having a vigorous pre-season schedule themselves.
“Anytime I’m watching my teammates succeed, it makes me excited about when we’re all together on the track team,” said Finney. “Most of the cross country runners are also our track teammates, so it gets me excited for the big meets.”
Since Finney’s first year, the women’s track and field team has won both Indoor and Outdoor Conference Championships. Last year, despite studying abroad in Ireland during the spring, she supported her fellow teammates when they competed at Nationals through check-ins and watching online streams.
During Finney’s absence, Voit achieved her career-best season, as she was named an All-American and won the North Coast Atlantic Coast Championship. She is the first All-American pole vaulter in Oberlin history, in addition to being the second first-year to earn the accolade. Voit attributes her success to the family-like dynamic among the pole vaulters last year.
“The team culture I think was also a big highlight of last season,” she said. “Like the pole vault squad, which included everyone including Grace, Jahkeem [Wheatley, OC ’19], and [former College student] Talia Rose [Barton]. There was always a lot of good energy in the room.”
However, this season, Finney will be the only fourth-year pole vaulter, as the team has lost a number of others, who have either graduated or transferred to other institutions. It was a particularly difficult transition for Finney, who experienced her first season without former pole vaulters Wheatley and Daniel Mukasa, OC ’19.
“I’ve never been a part of the team without Jahkeem and Daniel being there,” Finney said. “So that’s new and kind of sad, but we’ve carried on a lot of the inside jokes and a lot of good energy into this year and we have a couple first-years, in addition to our teammate [College second-year] Carter [LaPointe] who wasn’t able to jump very much last year. So we’ve lost some of our teammates, we really miss Talia Rose, but we still have a good community. And we get to build the team environment that we inherited from graduates and shape it our own way.”
LaPointe was injured the entirety of last season, but appreciated the supportive community that pole vaulting has offered him as he recovered.
“Pole vaulting is definitely an experience like none other, and the pole vault family we have are some of the most supportive and best people I know,” he said. “We all just want to see each other succeed and do our best to drive each other to get there.”
Pole vaulting is considered the most dangerous event in track and field; however, neither Finney nor Voit concentrate on the risk when they vault because of the intense preparation that they go through, in addition to their backgrounds in similarly risk-prone sports. When Finney joined track and field her first year of high school, she gravitated to the intensity of pole vaulting.
“I was a diver before joining track, and that was way scarier,” said Finney. “Usually when you start vaulting, you’re so bad that you can’t actually get high enough off the ground to really hurt yourself. And by the time you’re getting high enough to hurt yourself, you have a really good understanding of the technique so it’s harder to just randomly go flying.”
Voit echoed similar sentiments, as she started pole vaulting after encouragement from her teammates in high school.
“I came from a background in gymnastics,” said Voit. “So pole vaulting is almost less scary because as long as you do everything correctly, you’re going to land on a squishy mat. So you just do what you know and hope you don’t die,” she laughed.
Outside of meets, Finney said the women’s track and field team has made Oberlin a place where she is comfortable in all spaces, and helped her learn more about the various opportunities on campus.
“It opens up a comfort level with interacting with other parts of campus,” she said. “When I was a first- year, we didn’t have the PAL program at the time, so having teammates show me the ropes and including me in things was a huge part of the beginning of Oberlin for me. And then continuing that tradition has made me feel more connected with incoming years of students since then.”
Former Oberlin student Talia Rose Barton emphasized Finney’s and Voit’s dedication and commitment to the team as a source of inspiration when she vaulted here.
“They are both very committed to being the best athlete they can be for themselves and for the team,” she said. “They are both so driven. Sarah’s natural athleticism and the fact that she continues to push herself to be better pushes every vaulter around her to work harder. Without Grace’s leadership skills and experience in pole vaulting, Sarah and I couldn’t have done as well as we did last track season.”
Though the number of pole vaulters on the team has changed, the traditions and memories of former teammates continue to strengthen the bond between those that remain — traditions that Finney and Voit will pass on to the new members of the team as they launch into the track season this weekend.