May 21, 2011
By Betsy Devine
Special to Sting Daily
Growing up in Winston-Salem, N.C., Joanna Wright was living in a hot bed of ACC schools. Down the road she had Wake Forest; just over an hour to the east laid such prestigious universities as Duke and North Carolina and a little closer to the coast sat NC State.
But Wright headed in the opposite direction and brought herself to the place that she thought was right for her, Georgia Tech.
Simply stated by Wright, “I knew that I wanted to study science and I had some family down here. I also thought that it would be fun to live in Atlanta.”
Growing up, Wright ran track, sprinting during middle school because there were no field events to take part in. Once she hit high school, the North Carolina native wanted to try out all of the field events that she could and eventually stuck with pole vaulting because that is what she was the best at.
Pole vaulting is magical. The sprint down the runway, the pole, built to both hold people in the air and to bend to allow for momentum, sending the athlete soaring into the air, holding your breath to see if they can skim their way over the bar. The gasps of victory and the crush of defeat.
Watching current Georgia Tech head coach Viktor Kirillov’s son Nikita compete in the pole vault for St. Pius X this past spring at the Georgia Intercollegiate Meet and crush Georgia high school record after high school record was nothing short of amazing. The stands at the George C. Griffin Track and Field facility were full, and everyone’s attention was on the high school senior.
But when you are the pole vaulter, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration.
First, you have to sprint, with a pole that is longer than your body, down a runway. Then, during this time you have to start to think about placing this nuisance of a pole into the correct spot in the “box” so that you can give yourself enough momentum to swing up and over a bar that is, what seems like, 100 feet in the air. Once the pole hits the ground, you propel yourself usually upside down, over the bar (hopefully), or if you don’t do everything just right, into a bar.
Then you free fall. Straight back down to the ground.
The free fall is Wright’s favorite part.
“I like the free fall feeling, but only when it is a nice big jump,” said Wright. “It is disappointing when you don’t go very high and there is not a big fall.”
According to her coach Kirillov, Joanna has the stuff it takes to fly high. The daughter of a collegiate gymnast who competed at William and Mary, Wright’s 5-5 frame is strong. And with strength, comes success.
Wright’s success started early in her career under the tutelage of Allen Bradd. As a sophomore, Wright launched herself to a school record height at the NCAA East Regionals where she took fourth place and earned a spot at the NCAA Championships in Fayetteville, Ark.
But Wright looks back at the experience humbly.
“I knew going into Georgia Tech that the pole vault record wasn’t unreachable record so breaking it wasn’t a big deal to me,” stated Wright. “But going to nationals was very exciting. I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was until I got there. There was a huge crowd and I was very nervous. We had a big rain delay so the meet was kind of crazy.”
In her junior year, Wright continued her success, this time breaking the indoor pole vault record at the ACC Championships where she reached a height of 4.21 meters en route the ACC Pole Vault Title. During the outdoor season, she improved upon her school record and made her way back to the East Regionals, but a 15th place finish kept her out of the National Championships (top-12 advance).
This, the senior campaign for Wright, has been nothing short of outstanding. Armed with a new coach, Wright began her indoor season with four straight first place victories, including a school record mark of 4.31 meters, crushing her previous school record at the Rod McCravy Invitational at the University of Kentucky.
Wright finished the indoor season with five first place finishes, a runner up spot, a fifth place ACC performance and a ninth place showing in the NCAA Championships, earning USTFCCCA Second Team All-America honors.
The momentum continued to the outdoor track.
Wright set school record after school record taking first at the Georgia Intercollegiate Invitational on Tech’s campus, the Tiger Track Classic in Auburn, and the Seminole Invitational in Tallahassee where she recorded her best effort of the season, a school record height of 4.31 meters. Wright faltered a little at the ACC Championship where she was unable to record a height, but poor weather conditions might have contributed to that misstep. The senior bounced back at the North Florida Invitational with a second place finish and is now looking forward to her third and final NCAA East Regional Championship.
“I am always really nervous with meets where you really only have one chance,” said Wright. “I just have to really focus and work on consistency in this week up to it. I have to make sure that I am in the top-12. I should be able to but, like at ACCs I know how I did so you never know what can happen.”
Wright will find out her fate when she sets foot on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington on Thursday, May 26. The women’s pole vault qualifying round will begin at 6 p.m.