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ND Women’s Track: Saxer eyes NCAAs, All-America status during senior season

Alex Barker | Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A three-time all-Big East selection, participant in last year’s NCAA Mideast regional meet and holder of a number of school and meet records, senior pole-vaulter Mary Saxer has certainly enjoyed an illustrious career at Notre Dame.

But she’s far from done.

“This year I have my eye set on the NCAA Championships and placing so I can be All-American,” Saxer said. “I know that I have the ability to achieve this if I really put my mind to it.”

She won’t be alone on this journey. New pole-vaulting coach Jim Garnham will be at her side willing and able to assist her along the way.

“When I met with Mary this fall after taking this job, I asked her if she had accomplished everything that she wanted to accomplish athletically,” Garnham said. “Her answer was no. She said she wanted to be an All-American and that’s our goal.”

That’s hardly a stretch for the Lancaster, N.Y., native who is no stranger to performing at an elite level.

Saxer was the first high school female to clear the 14-foot mark, owns the national high school pole-vault record and, until recently, held the female American junior record as well as the female U-17 world record. She was named the National High School Indoor Athlete of the Year in 2005 and also received All-America honors from numerous associations including Nike and USA Today.

As if that wasn’t enough, she also claimed the national championship in the long jump at Nike’s Indoor Nationals in 2004.

Garnham said he believes her high school career has given her a great edge over most of the competitors at the collegiate level.

“Mary’s past experiences in the pole-vault set her apart from her competitors. She had a lot of success in the event in high school and I think having that experience really helps in different situations,” Garnham said. “Her maturity and her mental toughness are her strongest attributes.”

Saxer prefers, however, to give credit for her success to her coaches and teammates.

“My coach is so supportive and upbeat and I always look forward to practice because he makes it fun for all of us,” she said. “My teammates are like family to me and without them I don’t know where I would be. They are the people that you are around the most and they have been there for me through both the fun and difficult times in my life.”

Being this successful certainly has its perks.

“In high school, I had little girls come up to me at meets and ask for my autograph,” she said. “It’s moments like that where I just smile and think how lucky I am to have been given this talent.”

Garnham offered one example in particular that speaks volumes about Saxer’s popularity within the pole-vaulting community.

“We had a young lady in for an official visit this past fall and, when she was introduced to Mary, the recruit exclaimed: ‘You’re Mary Saxer, you’re Mary Saxer!’ [The girl] was so excited to meet her,” he said. “It was a pretty funny moment.”

For Saxer, moments like these give her an opportunity to look back on and truly appreciate what she has accomplished during her career.

“When that recruit recognized me like that, it made me smile. For a moment, I took a step back and realized everything that I had accomplished,” she said. “It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day practice and the struggles, but when I look at my pole vault career as a whole, I have a lot to be proud of.

“I am a pretty modest person so I don’t like to boast, but it’s cool sometimes to think that people actually look up to me and think so highly of me and what I have accomplished.”

Saxer is well on her way to achieving her goals for this season after just three meets. Her season-high jump of 13-3.75 feet has qualified her for the NCAA Regional and Big East Championship meets at the end of the season. It is the sixth-highest jump in the NCAA this season and also tied her record from last year’s NCAA Mideast regional.

With much of the indoor season remaining and the entire outdoor season on the horizon, the sky’s the limit for this experience veteran.