GREENFIELD — Greg Arnold only needs a few words to describe Emily Jones.
The first several, he says, detail the Greenfield- Central junior’s approach — to everything. The second series defines exactly where he believes the latter could carry his third-year pole vaulter by season’s end.
“Honestly, she works hard at it,” the Cougars’ pole vault coach remarked. “Because of that, there is no limit.”
No ceiling either, and if there happens to be one, Jones would spend every waking minute trying to break through it.
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“Pole vault is literally always on my mind,” she said. “It’s something I’m always thinking about. It’s something I’m always working for.
“My goal for this season is (11 feet, 6 inches).”
Four years ago such hair-raising heights were the farthest thing from Jones’s mind. Following in the footsteps of her father, Jay, a sprinter in his youth, Jones measured success in speed and inches as a hurdler in junior high.
Prior to her freshman year, though, pole vaulting presented the ideal challenge, one the natural 5-foot-2 acrobat felt compelled to conquer.
“She just came in with focus and said she wanted to try it, so I said, ‘OK, let’s see what you can do,’” Arnold recalled. “From there, she ran with it.”
In her first indoor event at Indiana Wesleyan University, Jones started her career by soaring 6 feet before finishing her inaugural Hoosier State Relay qualifier at 7-2.61.
Once the track season shifted outdoors, her maximum height reached 8-0 at the Hancock County Meet and continued to climb along with her offseason workout regimen.
“She works on all the drills that it takes,” Arnold said. “She swings from rings in her barn, she has a rope in her barn, too, and she uses a pull up bar with a modified boot. It’s kind of like putting the pieces to a puzzle together for her. She works on every bit of it.”
As a self-made entrepreneur at the age of 11, starting a business, Buddy’s Bunnies, to raise and sell rabbits in Pendleton, Jones, who is already accustomed to rolling up her sleeves, did it once again.
And it immediately paid off.
She increased her indoor personal record to 8-6 as a sophomore and four months later she elevated her flight by a foot, clearing 9-6 to place third at the Shelbyville Sectional.
Jones opened her junior indoor season at 9-0 during the Blue and White Relays at Anderson University on March 5.
A week later, she comfortably set a new school record at 10-0 in her final Hoosier State Relays qualifier at the University of Indianapolis. The feat tied her for eighth in the Large School division with the top 18 advancing to the HSR State Finals on March 26 at Purdue University.
Savannah Brock established the previous indoor school mark at 9-3 in 2014 and still holds the Greenfield-Central outdoor record at 10-0, but not for long, if Jones stays on track.
“I think she’s ahead of schedule,” Arnold said. “I think she’ll jump around 11 feet, but I’m not going to put any limits on her. She’s extremely solid at 9-foot-6 right now, and last year, I’m not going to say they were lucky jumps, but they were at the end of the season and she barely cleared. Now she’s well over it. She’s jumping really well.”
Jones isn’t settling, however. Attending a camp in Danville this past summer conducted by Derek Cullison, who is the pole vault coach at Carmel High School, she honed her technique.
Cullison currently has the No. 1 jumper in the state, Carmel’s Ryan Lipe, for the boys HSR State Finals at 16-4.75.
This fall, she trained with Arnold on sprinting and weightlifting, building her strength, endurance and acceleration as her primary aspiration has turned twofold.
“I want to qualify for indoor state and outdoor state this year,” she said. “Pole vaulting is something I hope to do in college. I really want to vault at Purdue.”
Next weekend, she’ll get a glimpse of her potential future when she competes inside Lambert Fieldhouse in West Lafayette, but there’s still more to do, Jones said, including finding the right equipment to put her over the top.
Jones used a 120-pound carbon fiberglass pole during warm-ups on Tuesday for the Cougars’ outdoor season opener against Mt. Vernon and Frankton.
She matched her PR with a 9-6 jump to win the event while going with her UCS Spirit 130-pound pole, the same one she despised a year ago, Jones jokes about today.
In three attempts at 10-0, she went with a borrowed 140-pound pole on her final run, adjusting to the new tension on the fly and almost nailing it by gaining more spring off the pivot.
“We’re trying to find the right one for her because they’re all different,” Arnold said. “In theory, the higher you can grip, the bigger the pole, the higher you can jump. It unbends quickly because it’s stronger. The goal is to get on poles that are way over your weight.”
With a 118-pound frame, Jones’ weight differential is perfect at 140. Now, it’s a matter of repetition, practice and confidence, which she doesn’t lack whether both feet are on the ground and off.
“We still have a long season, so I’m just going to keep pushing that bar up,” Jones said.
“Like she says, ‘grip it and rip it,’” Arnold added. “She’s always ready to go, and she nearly cleared 10-3 at UIndy. She’s very confident at nine feet, which will probably be the opening height (at the HSR State Finals). She knows the routine.”