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City's Brinckman soaring to new heights
Something about going 10 feet into the air upside down induces a rush for Courtney Brinckman.
The Michigan City senior has been twisting and turning through the air in every direction since she was three years old as a gymnast. Today, she's a member of the Wolves' track & field team, specializing in the pole vault.
But not only does she specialize in it, she's on the verge of a school record and is a candidate to reach the state finals.
"My cousin used to be the head coach at Crown Point (Mark Croell)," Brinckman said. "He always told me I should be a pole vaulter."
She didn't pick up pole vaulting until her freshman year at City. She was a gymnast first, and an accomplished one at that.
In 2006, as a freshman, she shared the gymnastics' team's Wolf Award, which is an award given out by the coach in that respective sport for a student-athlete's work on and off the playing field, with Taylor Holm.
Brinckman also qualified for state in the all-around, finishing 25th.
Heading into her junior year, she decided against gymnastics. She said track had nothing to do with her decision, but she was just burned out.
She did gymnastics and pole vault for each of her first two years at City. The two sports are remarkably similar.
Each sport requires the athlete to learn how to twist and turn their body in different ways, while in the air. Having a sense of body awareness and great upper body strength are two big things a pole vaulter must have.
And numerous area gymnasts are also pole vaulters.
Chesterton's Kelley Freeman is one. La Porte's Abbey Light said in March she hoped to give it a shot this year, and Abbey Sutton from Valparaiso was a state qualifier in both gymnastics and pole vault last year.
"It requires the same qualities," Brinckman said. "You need the upper body strength and coordination.
Brinckman certainly has that.
"She's a very good athlete," City track & field coach Tim Bumber said. "Last year, she really started taking off. ... This year she's even faster; she's stronger.
"... She's a tough athlete. She's got guts; there's no fear."
She has put herself amongst the best in the region in a relatively quick period of time.
She is currently tied with Shayna Smith for the school's pole vault record at 9 feet 6 inches. Smith set the mark more than three years ago. Brinckman did it numerous times, including at the sectional last year, and again at the Hoosier State Relays in March.
"Right now, since I've tied it so many times, I'd like to break it," Brinckman said. "It's cool have to your name on the record board."
Being out front is something Brinckman has had to be this year after the Wolves lost two of its biggest contributors from a year ago - Shanese McGregor and Liandra Cash.
They were half of the state-qualifying 400-meter relay team, which also consisted of Brinckman and Ja'Lynn Sanders.
But not only is McGregor's and Cash's ability missed, they were the hearts and souls of the Wolves, Bumber said. Because of those losses, the sprint and hurdle events are certain weaknesses for the Wolves in 2009.
Sanders has been nursing an injury since volleyball, so getting her going has been a slow process.
"We've been doing small tweaks here and there (with the lineup)," Bumber said. "I just have to be patient with them."
The distances are led by MaryKate Mellen.
Mellen, who's Ball State-bound next fall, is a multi-state qualifier in both track and cross country. She figures to be right in the state contention picture once again this season.
"She's something special," Bumber said of Mellen. "She's bringing along that distance crew that did a nice job in cross country."
In addition, in the early stages of the season, Bumber has been more than pleased with the discus and shot put events, led by seniors Stephanie Wilson and Latesha Mitchell.
Wilson took second in the shot at the sectional last year, and 10th at the regional. Mitchell was second in discus at the sectional, but only 14th at the regional.
Bumber said both girls have been the top-two point scorers at nearly every meet they've been in so far. Mitchell has already bested her personal-best toss by seven feet this season.
"That's an easy group to coach right now," Bumber said.
Of course there's Brinckman.
She's topped off at 9-6 in competition, but has cleared 10-6 in practice, which puts her among the top three out of teams in the regional, Bumber said. The top three qualify for state out of the regional.
Brinckman is not just a pole vaulter. She has become a quality sprinting option for the Wolves.
At the Argo Relays in Illinois on Saturday, Brinckman was one leg of the 800. When she got the baton, the Wolves were in sixth place. Two hundred meters later, the Wolves were leading.
Brinckman said when the sprints and hurdles were added to her meet schedule, she became a better pole vaulter.
"It made me faster," she said.
That's important because, according to Brinckman, getting up to full speed on the approach is the most important aspect of pole vaulting. Brinckman said if you don't get to proper speed, it ruins the entire pole vault routine.
And her rise is no fluke.
When the Wolves go through drills, the freshmen and sophomores ooh and aah when Brinckman, who wants to go into pre-med, does those drills.
"I don't know if Courtney wanted that role," Bumber said, "but the ninth- and 10th-graders look up to her.
"... They don't realize she's worked hard to get there."
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