Author: Owen Hill
First year pole vaulter Melissa Braun has already made a name for herself at the college level. In just her first meet for Occidental, Braun cleared 10′ 11.75″ — the fourth highest all-time at Occidental. But her work wasn’t finished; shortly after, Braun surged to third on the all-time school list when she cleared 11′ 5.75″ in her third meet.
Hailing from Santa Cruz, Calif., Braun began her track career as a sprinter but made the transition to pole vaulting towards the end of her first year of high school. Her high school coach suggested that she try the discipline and after a week, she cleared 7′ 6″ in her first meet.
“I never thought about being a collegiate athlete until pole vault,” Braun said. “Being a sprinter in California, it’s hard to tell whether you are really good or not because everyone is so talented. But with [pole vaulting], it was something that I loved enough to push myself [to reach the NCAA level].”
Recruitment for college sports typically begins during an athlete’s junior year of high school. Unfortunately for Braun, an injury prevented her from practicing during what could have been a crucial year. Following a successful recovery from the injury, Braun reached out to potential schools, narrowing her choices to Occidental and Willamette University. Her communication with Occidental Track and Field Recruiting Coordinator David Foley ’12 during her senior year helped make the choice clear.
“He offered to set up an athletic visit and let me stay with the team, and as soon as I met the team I knew I wanted to come here,” Braun said.
Braun added that Foley and the rest of the coaching staff kept up with her during the rest of her senior season and congratulated her when she set personal records. This kind of interaction, according to Braun, made Occidental feel like home before she arrived in the fall of 2015.
The transition from high school to college is difficult but, according to head coach Rob Bartlett, Braun has adapted well to life as a college athlete.
“There’s a lot of changes that had to happen,” Bartlett said. “As a senior in high school, you’re the oldest and at the top of the pile, so to speak. When you come into college, you go back to being the youngest — it’s definitely a sudden shift.”
The most important part of an athlete’s transition from high school to college is the ability to maintain competitive form. According to Bartlett, Braun has done a good job of ensuring that she kept the skills she developed towards the end of high school.
“She’s honestly where we hoped she would be,” Bartlett said. “I think because of all the adjustments you have to make [transitioning from high school to college], not everyone is able to get there as quickly as they want. Melissa has certainly done that quickly, and to see her where she is now is certainly good for us.”
Braun sits third on the all-time list, but aspires to reach the top spot in the Occidental record books. According to pole vaulting coach Andy Steben ’69, Braun has the tireless work ethic and passion that coaches love to see in their athletes.
“We’re still working out some form issues, but she will jump a lot higher than if she does not work out those issues,” Steben said. “I can see her going anywhere from 12’4″ to 12’6.” And that’s optimistic, but then again, she is optimistic, so I am as well.”
Steben believes that Braun can clear 13′ if she stays within her current trajectory.
“This season my goal was originally 12′ 6″ because I thought that was attainable for me,” Braun said. “But my coaches and some people back home who support me have encouraged me to try for the top spot, which would be anything above 12′ 8″. I figured that should be my goal because if I don’t get it, it would still be higher than my original goals.”
Braun added that she has aspirations for the end of college but did not want to share them just yet. She did, however, mention the excitement of being part of the track and field team that beat Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) for the first time since 1998. Though only the men’s team was able to beat CMS, Braun’s rising star as a pole vaulter could help the women’s team beat teams like CMS for the next four years.
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