Sarah Higham is still in high school, yet she's already a pioneer in girls' athletics. Before she enters Brigham Young University this fall, don't be surprised if she has grown to legendary status.
Higham is a key ingredient on Mission Viejo's top-ranked girls' track and field team. More notably, she's one of the top five returning pole vaulters in the country. In the state finals last season, she placed fourth in the second-year event. She also set a Southern Section Division II record by clearing 11-9 in the preliminaries.
This season she remains realistic about her personal goals. She doesn't consider breaking the national high school record (12-8) and then clearing 13-0 far-fetched. Already her personal best from last year would tie for ninth among the NCAA's top returning women's marks for 1998.
What's more fascinating is Higham doesn't spend the whole year lifting and contorting her frame over a high bar. Soccer has always remained her favorite sport, with volleyball and basketball not far behind. In February, Higham accepted a scholarship to play soccer at BYU, but also plans to continue pole vaulting for the women's track team, which is ranked seventh in the NCAA this season.
"It's kind of challenging just to try to catch up," Higham said, "because the other girls that do pole vault, a lot of times don't do other sports."
Just 11 days ago, Higham and her teammates celebrated a Division I soccer championship after defeating Capistrano Valley, 1-0. Before that season, Higham played volleyball for the Diablos and was their most valuable player. She's also played basketball at Mission Viejo, but scaled back to three sports during her senior season.
Higham's diversity is also evident in track and field. In a addition to the pole vault, she competes in the 300 low hurdles, triple jump and high jump. She's a member of the 400-meter relay team, and Mission Viejo Coach Fred Almond has used her in the 100 high hurdles when needed.
"She is a superstar in the pole vault, but she will do whatever is required to help the team be successful," Almond said. "She's had that attitude from the beginning."
Higham said she's more at ease in the pole vault, especially since you're awarded three attempts to do your best. Also, there's something about lining up next to her opponents that makes her jittery.
"I get so nervous in running, sometimes I wonder why I do it, but it helps me with pole vault a lot," she said. "I've just always had a problem with running against people. In the pole vault you don't get the butterflies because you get a couple tries, but with running it's just that one try."
Higham became interested in the pole vault her freshman year, when only a few girls across the county were competing alongside boys. "I had heard about girls competing, but none that I really knew of," she said.
Almond didn't allow her to vault against the boys that season, but when the sport was added for girls in 1997, she began competition. Part-time that is.
But this multi-sport athlete is accustomed to hearing the word multiple during conversation. After all, she's the fifth of 12 children in the Higham family. This summer she'll join older sisters Melanie, Shelley and Tami, and brother Doug at BYU, albeit briefly.
"It was a pretty easy decision to go there, just because I know the school really well," Higham said. "My brother went on a mission for two years, so that will make him a junior, and my other sister should be graduating from there this summer. Then I have one that's a freshman and one that's a sophomore."
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PRESEASON TOP 10
Mission Viejo: Seeking 16th straight league title
Woodbridge: Again, strength lies in runners
Santa Margarita: Talent in hurdles, sprints and jumps
Esperanza: Best group of freshmen since 1992
Edison: Defeated Brea Olinda in preseason
Marina: Led by a slew of vaulters
Brea Olinda: Depth keeps Wildcats strong
Newport Harbor: Mile and relays are biggest assets
Capistrano Valley: Will battle for second in league
El Modena: Returns entire squad