This story was written by Adrian Godoy of Grady Sports. The Grady Sports Media Program is an undergraduate program for students at the University of Georgia.
Georgia has two women—graduate student Kayla Smith and sophomore Julia Fixsen— competing in the pole vault at this weekend’s NCAA Division I Indoor Championships. They’re tied for fourth in the country, but they got there in very different ways.
Fixsen, a Shoreview, Minnesota native, was ranked the No. 1 U.S. pole vaulter out of highschool. Before entering college, she had already come close to surpassing the 14-feet mark, a major milestone in the pole vault.
Her best mark before joining the Bulldogs was 13-11.25, which she topped four times during her first season at Georgia. Fixsen capped her freshman season with a 14-7.5 jump at the SEC championships.
She has yet to replicate her best mark this season, but her closest attempts in 2021 earned her gold medals at both the Clemson Invite in January and the SEC championships a month later.
To Fixsen, learning from the meet and performing to her potential are the main priorities.
“It’s going to take not thinking too much and letting everything happen the way it’s supposed to,” Fixsen said. “If it’s my day, it’s my day. If not, I’ll be there to get the experience under my belt.”
In contrast, Smith now totals six seasons with the Georgia track & field team. She’s dealt with a number of injuries as a Bulldog, including to the heel, wrist and foot.
But despite the setbacks, Smith managed to jump a career-best 14-5.25 during the 2021 indoor season, and she is certain she can top that.
“I haven’t peaked yet,” Smith said. “In the pole vault, you peak on the right day, and I’m set up to peak at nationals. Physically, mentally, I’m ready to do it.”
As a sophomore, Smith earned All-America honors when she tied for eighth at the indoor championships. Now, Smith hopes to show how the years of experience have transformed her as a vaulter in what will be her last go at the event.
Georgia pole vault coach Russ Johnson said both vaulters are dialed in. He compared the remainder of their preparation to that of a car before race day.
“It’s a matter of taking the race car out, checking everything and doing a few test laps,” Johnson said.
In the time leading up to the competition, Smith and Fixsen will be focusing on the little things.
“The national championships aren’t the time to try and reinvent the wheel,” he said. “It’s the time where they narrow their focus on the fine-tuning.”
In four different events this season, when a Georgia vaulter has taken the crown, her teammate was right behind her. Another one-two strike is a possibility in next weekend’s event, and both women are eager to see who will have the edge.
But despite being some of each other’s closest competitors, Smith and Fixsen do not see one another as rivals during competition. Instead, the two feel that their support is what helps them succeed.
“We really help each other out,” Fixsen said. “When we’re competing, of course we’re wanting to get over each bar and beat each other. But I think there is a healthy relationship between [us] – we are friends, and no matter who wins or loses we are always there for each other.”
One thing both jumpers know is that it will not be easy. The top 10 women all have season bests within 10 centimeters of each other, and the Georgia vaulters know any one of them can take it.
“It’s going to be a fierce competition,” Smith said. “It really will be anyone’s gold medal that day.”
More Georgia Track and Field stories
- Six Bulldog women qualify for the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in jumps
- Heptathlon presents big opportunity for Georgia Track at NCAA Championships
- The men’s 4×400 relay team is UGA’s “dark horse” leading up to the NCAA championships
- Georgia sophomore Anna Hall chases pentathlon gold at NCAA championships