Catching up with top CA pole vaulter Elizabeth Funk

Elizabeth Funk cleared 13-01 and 13-09 during the TRAC Finals on Thursday. (DeAnna Turner photo)

On Thursday night, Clovis West senior Elizabeth Funk became just the fifth girl in California high school track and field history to clear at least 13 feet, 9 inches in the pole vault. 

With that clearance, Funk, competing in the Tri-River Athletic Conference Finals at Clovis East High, improved on her previous CA best of 13-7, took over sole possession of the No. 4 ranking position in the United States, and moved into a tie for the No. 3 highest clearance in CA history.

She also broke the CIF-Central Section record of 13-8.50 set by Kira Costa of San Joaquin Memorial in 2003.

In a written exchange on Friday, Funk said she cleared 13-1 on her second attempt, which secured the TRAC title for a second consecutive year. At that point it was her choice as to how high to raise the bar.

"I decided to go up to (13-9) to break the all time Central Section record," she wrote. "I cleared (13-9) on my first attempt. After that, I went up to 14 (feet) with some good attempts! I know that it is very much possible."

In clearing 13-9 she equalled the heights previously cleared by Erika Malaspina (Santa Cruz Pacific Collegiate) and Kaitlyn Merritt (Santa Margarita) at No. 3 on CA's all-time list.

According to the Track & Field News 'High School Track 2019' record book, only two girls in CA history have cleared 14 feet:

  • Rachel Baxter (Anaheim Canyon) set the state record at 14-5.50 in 2017
  • Tori Anthony (Palo Alto Castilleja) cleared 14-1.25 in 2007
Funk is the 29th girl in U.S. HS history to clear at least 13-9 and the third this year, a year in which we witnessed a new U.S. record (Chloe Cunliffe of West Seattle (WA) cleared 14-8 at Arcadia) and where there are currently eight CA girls at 13-0 or better.

Elizabeth Funk (third from left) cleared 13-1 to tie for third place at the Arcadia Invitational in April where Chloe Cunliffe (far right) won in a national high school record clearance of 14-8. (Jeffrey Parenti photo)

Note that the 2018 CIF-State title was won at 12-6 (a four-way tie decided on misses) and that Funk's 12-0 clearance wasn't enough to get her out of prelims. As a sophomore, she earned a sixth-place medal with a 12-06 best at the 2017 State Final.

But 2019 has been a different story for the San Diego State-bound Funk, who has improved her PR this year by eight inches. Thursday's clearance was the latest improvement in a season where she has twice gone over 13-1, and also cleared 13-7 (April 12 at Sanger) and now 13-9.

"I think this year, I have become so much stronger physically and mentally which has helped me immensely," she wrote. "Getting on bigger poles, being confident, and trusting in the good Lord has all been a factor to my jumping this year. I knew that clearing high 13s was possible, but it's crazy to think it's actually happening! I'm so thankful for that!"

In the years before entering high school, Funk said she tried different sports, naming volleyball, gymnastics and diving.

"But I loved track more than any of those," she wrote. 

Funk wrote that she started vaulting her freshman year at Clovis West. As she showed signs of improvement, her passion for the event grew.

"I always loved track and field, so I thought pole vaulting would be super cool and something new to try," she wrote. "Turns out, my high school pole vault coach (Chuck Anderson) is also my neighbor! So shortly after I met him, we started drills right away. From there, it's been a lot of hard work and perseverance together.

"So when I began to PR my freshmen year, I knew that I wanted to pole vault. So I would say my freshmen year I narrowed it down to pole vault. That's all I wanted to do! I love it!"

Next up for Funk -- and perhaps her next chance to try to clear 14 feet -- is the CIF-Central Section North Area Championships (May 8) followed by the Central Section Masters Meet (May 18) and then the State Finals (May 24-25). 

"To become a 14-foot vaulter, I believe I need to jump how I always do," she wrote "Not much change is needed besides keep jumping on bigger poles and having clean jumps, with being confident in myself."

Additional photo credit: Patrick Corsinita.