Senior spotlight: WPIAL pole vault champ takes talents into kitchen

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Sunday, April 12, 2020 | 6:01 AM


Editor’s note: Each day, Trib HSSN will spotlight a WPIAL spring athlete whose senior year has been cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.

Jo-Michelle Huczko can’t pole vault in her living room.

There’s no landing mat in her driveway or space for a 15-foot pole in the kitchen.

Perfecting her craft has been tough for the reigning WPIAL Class AAA pole vault champion.

But, this extra time at home has allowed the Franklin Regional senior to work on another of her passions.

“I really love to bake and cook,” she said. “A lot of the time, I am too busy with my other priorities to have a chance to explore new recipes. I made it my New Year’s resolution to bake more, and quarantine has given me the time to enjoy my hobby. My chocolate soufflé recipe is coming along nicely.”

A longtime gymnast and newcomer to track and field, Huczko captured the 2019 WPIAL pole vault title after clearing 11 feet. She then finished ninth at the PIAA championships by clearing 11-6.

She won’t get the chance to defend her WPIAL title after PIAA officials canceled the spring sports season Thursday.

How have you been keeping busy during the coronavirus pandemic?

I have mostly been keeping up with and adjusting to online school, but I have also spent way too much time baking and trying to perfect my chocolate soufflé recipe.

Have you been doing any track and field activities?

I haven’t been able to do too many track and field activities. Mostly I have just tried to stay in shape. Earlier this year, I finally convinced my little sister to join the track team. So, the two of us started doing workouts together to stay in shape.

Is there a way to work on pole vaulting without a landing mat?

There is. I do a lot of running drills in my backyard. I also work on just going through the motions of a good vault. But when that becomes boring, I work on technique and in-air awareness on our trampoline. I met a coach over the summer who says that you should do something small every day to become a better vaulter. Right now, I am really trying to live by that motto. It is a detail-oriented event, so focusing on the small things you can do to improve can still help quite a bit. Although having a mat and a runway is always preferable.

What were you hoping to accomplish personally and as a team?

Personally, I hoped to become a WPIAL champion again, qualify for states again and maybe make it on to the podium. As a team, I hoped that we (could) go for another section title. Last year, our men’s team was successful with that, but our women’s team fell just short of earning a title. So, this year, I was really hoping that both the men’s and women’s teams could be champions. However, with everything going on right now, I just (hoped) we (would) have a chance to compete.

How much practice time did you have before the shutdown?

Our season started about two weeks before the quarantine; however, we were rained out of practice almost half of those days. Like most of the spring sports teams in our area, we didn’t have a lot of time to get started. I know it has been hard on our new pole vault recruits. It isn’t an event that you can learn in a day. It takes a long time just to learn how to get off the ground, and then there is the whole other problem about what to do after that.

How did you plan to top winning a WPIAL title?

I am a pretty ambitious person. I couldn’t help but have big plans for this season all year. With the way I was vaulting during the summer, I had reasonable hopes to place at states. But the ultimate goal (was) to vault well enough to qualify for nationals.

Have you made any plans for school next year?

I haven’t made any final decisions yet about college. But with decision day coming up soon, I am sure that is going to change quickly.

Will you compete in track and field?

Yes. Even though I haven’t been a part of the track and field community for very long, I love it with all my heart. I can’t imagine giving up pole vaulting in college. I think I have a lot of potential left in me, and I can’t wait to work in college to fully realize it.

What do you plan to study?

I plan to study political science and double major in either chemistry or art. I have plans to go on to law school later down the road.

What do you like most about the pole vault event?

There is a moment when you are just above the bar and you feel weightless. Time just stops, and you have a chance to look at everything around you from so far above the ground. Outside of the actual mechanics of pole vault, the community around the event is so heartwarming. Everyone is so positive. We just want to see each other achieve to the best of our abilities. At every meet, everyone is on their feet and screaming for each other. I can’t put into words how supportive the community is.

What have you missed most during this quarantine period?

Honestly, I have missed track season the most. I have been looking forward to this all year. Every time I was unmotivated or upset or exhausted, I looked to the upcoming track season for a bit of positivity. Having to hold off on doing what I love has been heartbreaking, and not having my friends and teammates around has just made everything noticeably lonelier.

If you could have dinner with any three celebrities, who would they be?

John Krasinski, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tim Gunn.

Do you have any nicknames?

Most people just call me JoJo.

Bill Hartlep is the sports editor of the Tribune-Review. You can contact Bill at bhartlep@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TribHSInsider.

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