Up in the air: Freshman makes name for herself in pole vaulting, hurdles


By Maggie Neary and Louisa Sandorff, Staff Reporters

During the school day, freshman Melissa Guillen is often found wearing her AirPods and a white North Face backpack slung over her shoulder. Her small frame and big smile radiate warm energy as she chats with her friends and teachers before class. But don’t be fooled: with a pole in her hands or hurdles ahead, Guillen is a force to be reckoned with.

Between the fall and winter, Guillen made a name for herself as the fourth fastest freshman in the 55-meter hurdles in Pennsylvania. Guillen is also involved with pole vaulting. During the winter season, she jumped nine feet, which is one foot away from her goal at nationals.

“Pole vault and hurdles are both very technical and challenging events that take quite a few months to excel in,” polevault and hurdles coach Anecia Alexaki said. “And she has been very dedicated, consistent and (gave it) her all every practice to develop into that athlete.”

Alexaki has been coaching Guillen since the summer and seen her grow. Without putting specific expectations on her, Alexaki envisions a bright future for Guillen because of her work ethic.

“She has a spectacular attitude in everything that she does, it’s the mentality of ‘I will work with whatever I have, and I will give my all in everything that I’m doing,’” Alexaki said. “She doesn’t complain. She doesn’t give up. And that is not something that you can coach.”

This past winter season, Guillen competed in the Ocean Breeze Invitational in Staten Island, New York. She placed second in the freshman finals for 55-meter hurdles, and sixth for pole vaulting.

“I feel pretty proud about my performance in the winter season for hurdles,” Guillen said. “And it was a struggle for me because I was worrying about two events at the same time at those meets.”

Training six days a week, Guillen practices pole vaulting three of those days and hurdles only once. The remaining two are spent as “normal” track practices, including sprints and long distance. Guillen believes that the days dedicated to sprinting are helpful toward her hurdling experience, because they are similar in length and speed.

“We don’t get to practice the full length of hurdles constantly (during the winter) because the facility is not an indoor track,” Guillen said.

When Guillen joined the ’Stoga track and field program this past fall, she decided to give pole vaulting a shot. Eventually, she developed a passion for the sport and began to excel in it. During the winter season, she was a few inches short of reaching 10 feet, the required height for nationals. She continues to train and compete this spring season, hoping to qualify for the National spot.

“I have grown so much in winter track, there’s a high chance I will be able to grow that extra bit to make it to those really big competitions,” Guillen said.

With the spring season underway, Guillen has many goals she hopes to accomplish this season.

“I feel pretty confident,” Guillen said. “I’m really excited to see how it’s going to go, because I want to see how far I can make it.”