EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 24, 2013

Flying high

Pentucket vaulter Attenasio reaching new heights in track and music

High School Track
David Willis

---- — Pentucket's Attenasio reaching new heights

WEST NEWBURY — It’s not that Ali Attenasio does not feel the nerves as she prepares to perform one of her original songs for an audience, songs often written about the most emotional times in her life.

But when your greatest passion involves flinging yourself into the air, then falling 11-plus feet onto a mat, standing on stage with a guitar simply does not seem as terrifying.

“I just love flying through the air,” said Attenasio. “Sure, I’ve had my falls. They were scary, but nothing that is going to scare me away. I bounce back quick. Pole vaulting is like nothing else.”

This spring, the Pentucket junior and talented singer and multi-instrumentalist has flown to heights that few in the region have ever reached.

Two weeks ago, Attenasio vaulted a school record 11-feet in a dual meet with Masco, tied for third best for a female in Eagle-Tribune area history.

“She is amazing,” said Sachems coach Steve Derro. “She has had the no-fear attitude that a pole vaulter needs from the moment she walked in, and she has progressed an amazing amount in the last three years. The sky is the limit for Ali. We have no idea where she is going to peak.”

A competitive gymnast in her youth, the 5-foot-3 Attenasio could not wait to try pole vaulting when she arrived in high school. But, even with her background in high-flying sports, she admits learning to vault was a daunting task.

“It’s very difficult at first because there is no real way to ease you into pole vault,” she said with a laugh. “It’s kind of just, ‘Here’s a pole. Run at the pad and see if you can plant and get off the ground.’”

She was able to leave the ground as a freshman, but with a personal best of just 7-6 she barely qualified for states, and did not clear the opening height at the Cape Ann League Meet.

One week after CALs, however, Attenasio exploded onto the scene by winning the Eastern Mass. Division 3 states with a 9-0.

“It just all clicked that day,” said Attenasio, who also runs hurdles, does the long jump and throws the shot put. “I got three personal bests and ended up taking first out of nowhere. Everyone was pretty surprised because I was a freshman. The coaches were all about as shocked as I was. It was very exciting.”

Despite battling back problems as a sophomore, she was still able to set a school record by vaulting 10-3 and place third at the Division 3 EMass. meet. But she busted that mark in a big way on May 6 of this year against Masconomet.

“First I hit my personal best, then I decided to try 10-6 as an experiment and cleared that on my first try,” said the West Newbury resident. “So we decided to go up to 11-0 just for the heck of it, and I got that on my first try. It was crazy.

“I’m pretty sure I was off the mat just as soon as I hit it because I was so excited the bar was still on. I jumped up and hugged my coach. It’s kind of insane to be one of the (region’s all-time) best. I can’t even fathom it. There are so many fantastic athletes from the area.”

With EMass. Division 3 meet this weekend and All-States up in a week, Attenasio now has her eyes set even higher. But she knows success in the pole vault is about constantly evolving.

“I want to keep improving and get to 13 feet,” she said. “The thing about pole vaulting is there is always new forms and new techniques to learn. Once you have mastered one, you can get a few heights out of it. Then you have to master something new. You have to change your form every time, but I want to get better.”

Her vaulting coach has total confidence Attenasio has far from reached her peak.

“I can see her going over 12 feet,” said vaulting coach Joe Kulis. “She works hard and puts in the time. If she had it her way she would be here until dark every night. Anything over 10 feet is excellent for a girl. She has hit 11 feet and has the potential to go even higher.”

Singing her song

Attenasio had no time to celebrate winning the pole vault and 100 hurdles in a meet against Hamilton-Wenham last Thursday.

She had a performance to get to.

“I was performing an original song I wrote at the (Pentucket) Art Festival,” she said. “It was a busy day but it was a lot of fun.”

Music has been a lifelong passion for Attenasio. Along with her singing talents, she plays the guitar, mandolin and ukulele and is learning the banjo.

“My dad has always been a guitar player and he taught me to play,” she said. “I love the sound of acoustic songs. Then when I started playing the guitar, people started to say I wasn’t too bad.”

Attenasio is now beginning to receive attention for that talent. She has performed at venues such the Sad Cafe in Plaistow, and she has established a youtube.com page where she posts videos of herself performing.

“My sister (former Pentucket basketball standout Andrea) loves getting my music out there for people to hear,” she said. “She calls herself my manager. I love to play and I have no idea how many songs I have written. Some are good and some no one would want to hear. But it is a real honor when people say they like my music.”

And she says performing in front of a crowd and pole vaulting are not that different.

“Both are about mental focus,” she said. “You are our there alone. There are people supporting you, but you have to produce. But I love them both.”