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Valencia's Pica vaulting for a state title

Posted: May 22, 2014 10:34 p.m.
Updated: May 22, 2014 10:35 p.m.

Valencia High senior pole vaulter Briana Pica is the lone Viking to make it to Saturday's CIF-Southern Section Division I championship. She quit cheerleading to focus on her vaulting and has seen that extra attention pay off.

 

Valencia High School could only hold off construction of its new turf field for so long.

Excuse Valencia senior Briana Pica for extending her track and field season this late in the year.

Pica is the lone representative for Valencia headed into Saturday’s CIF-Southern Section Division I championships at Cerritos College.

And due to the work being done at Valencia High, the 17-year-old pole vaulter has had to continue her training at West Ranch High twice a week.

“It’s not that weird,” Pica says of the offsite practices.

It figures a small change of scenery wouldn’t make much difference to the senior. She has a certain, quiet determination as she heads into Saturday.

And there are a lot of good reasons why.

For one thing, she’s been here before. She was fifth at the CIF-SS finals last year in Division I, which qualified her for the CIF-SS Masters Meet. The Masters Meet is used as a state championship qualifier.

If she can get past that step, she’ll become the first female SCV athlete to pole vault all the way to the state meet.

“I’d love that, especially because I’d get to represent Valencia High School,” Pica says.

The last SCV product to make the state meet in the event was Hart’s Frank Rock in 1968.

This year, there could very well be multiple with Canyon’s Jeremy Kimmer already owning the SCV boys pole vault record at 15 feet. He, along with fellow Canyon vaulter Ged Kerezis and Pica, are all competing at CIF finals on Saturday to try to end the decades-long drought of a local state qualifier.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Rock, who has coached the event at Canyon High the last 25 years. “We have definitely had good vaulters, we’ve had good talent. It’s just a matter of keeping kids motivated all year round”

Pica is the only one of the three who is returning to CIF finals in the event, and in her case, she’s been a budding pole vault talent for a while.

She started three years ago by breaking the freshman school record at 8 feet, 6 inches and then proceeded to break the sophomore record at 10-3. She won the pole vault league title that same year.

“She jumped as high as I’d ever seen anyone on her first day,” said Valencia pole vaulting coach Fernando Carrillo of his first time seeing Pica jump.

At the time, Pica was a cheerleader with a gymnastics background who was only pole vaulting because a friend of hers on the cheerleading squad convinced her to try it.

It’s relatively common for former gymnasts and tumblers to succeed in the vault given the event’s demand for strong and flexible athletes.

Pica continued to cheer through her junior year. School pride was her priority and had been attending Valencia High football and basketball games as far back as seventh and eighth grade.

It wasn’t until after last season, when she leapt her way all the way to the Masters Meet and came within inches of qualifying for state that Pica decided to forgo cheerleading and hone in on her new passion.

Now instead of cheering on football players, she often trains with them in the weight room.

“I wanted to spend my entire time focusing on (pole vault),” Pica says. “I wanted to get better for myself and I want to be a college athlete so that contributed to it.”

With an added focus, more offseason training and the bonus of no longer trying to juggle cheer practice with track and field practice, the results began to show for the 17-year-old.

Pica won her third straight Foothill League title in the event this season, but she’s says she’s feeling more confident at this point in the year than ever before.

“She’s put a lot of time into this,” says Valencia track and field head coach Jeff Gilkey. “She’s seen private coaches in the offseason and she’s really tried to work with people to get better.”

Pica caught the attention of some college recruits when she leapt 11 feet and took fourth place at the Mt. San Antonio College Relays invitational on April 19.

She’s already been academically accepted to UC Santa Barbara, and she says she plans to walk on to the track and field team.

“It took me three years to make her believe she was good at the sport because she just thought, ‘Oh, this is just something I do in the off-time between cheer,” Carrillo says.

Pica’s current personal best mark is 11-4 and she’s been consistently clearing 11 feet.

The next goal for Pica to chase is the all-time SCV mark of 12 feet, which was accomplished twice — once by Valencia’s Jill Reynolds in 2004 and again by Canyon’s Stevie Kennedy-Gold in 2011.

Though both showed the capability of clearing a bar high enough to advance to state, neither did it at the right time.

Pica is hoping she’ll peak at the perfect time, and she’ll likely need to in a deep group of Southern Section vaulters. She’ll need to finish among the top 12 in Division I on Saturday to move to the Masters Meet and, from there, she’ll have to likely eclipse at least 11-7, the CIF state at-large qualifying mark.

The SCV has seen great athletes pass through and compete at the state level in nearly every other event on the track and the field – just not the pole vault.

Maybe after all these years, this valley is due.

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