During the boys and girls pole vault competitions at last week’s Hamline Elite Meet, there was no surprise in the fact that the top finishers hail from the same high school. As the bar was raised higher and higher and competitors fell by the wayside, junior Julia Fixsen and senior Calvin Ciganik – both wearing the uniform of the Mounds View Mustangs – rose to the top.
That is not a new thing. Fixsen and Ciganik are the best of the best in Minnesota high school pole vaulting, hailing from one of the sport’s traditional track and field powers. The Mustangs have separate coaching staffs for the girls and boys teams, and the pole vaulters have separate pits for workouts and meets at Mustang Stadium.
“The environment of pole vault, the community, that’s the most attractive thing,” Fixsen said. “You don’t want to do sports just to be good, I want to have fun with it.”
Fixsen and Ciganik each own one state championship and one runner-up finish. Fixsen also is the newly-minted holder of the girls state record while Ciganik is hoping to break the boys record before the season ends. To say they aim high is an understatement.
Fixsen set the state record on March 31 during an indoor meet at the University of Minnesota. She cleared 13 feet, 9 inches, topping the previous record of 13-7¼ set by Rochester Century’s Andrianna Jacobs in 2015.
The boys state record of 16-1¼ was set by Blake’s Grant Krieger in 2013. Ciganik cleared 16 feet at a non-high school competition in February; his best during the MSHSL season is 15-8 last week at the Elite Meet. Fixsen cleared 13-2 to win the girls event. Both had margins of 16 inches over the Elite Meet runners-ups.
They both came to pole vaulting after focusing on other sports. Fixsen was a high-level youth gymnast, while Ciganik focused on wrestling as a kid and played football through his junior season. Both began pole vaulting in eighth grade.
Ciganik cleared 8 feet, 6 inches in the pole vault as an eighth-grader, and he was hooked right away. “I just fell in love with it,” he said.
Ciganek and Fixsen combine for five trips to the state meet. Fixsen won the Class 2A championship as a sophomore last season, clearing 11 feet, 6 inches. As a freshman she cleared 13 feet at state and placed second behind senior and four-time champion Jacobs. Fixsen first went to state as an eighth-grader, finishing ninth. Ciganik was the 2A boys champ as a sophomore two years ago and was the state runner-up last year.
Fixsen is looking to top 14 feet this spring and Ciganik would like to clear 16-plus and set a state record. But for both of them, how hard they work is more important than how high they fly.
“There are a lot of things in the pole vault that you can work on,” said Fixsen, “including run, jump, takeoff, swing and turn, and a lot more even within that.”
Ciganik said, “Last year I set goals for 16-plus and that’s kind of gotten me nowhere. I don’t really want to chase numbers this year, I just want to be the best version of myself and the numbers will follow. I want to continue the tradition of Mounds View pole vault, those are my goals.”
Training in gymnastics and wrestling has been valuable for both athletes. Matt Fleigle, who coaches Fixsen and Mounds View’s other female pole vaulters, said, “Sports like gymnastics give that kinesthetic awareness of where you are in space, and having that built up before high school made the transition to pole vaulting so much easier for her.”
Fixsen is 5 feet, 10 inches tall and Ciganik stands 6-2. Both combine speed, strength and quickness to sail high and twist their bodies over the bar.
“I was a gymnast originally so I liked going upside down,” Julia said. “I liked flipping and defying gravity. The first day, it was familiar to me because of the gymnastics skills and my background.”
Fixsen cleared 13-6 in her first meet this spring, an indoor competition at Bethel University. When she went 13-9 to set the state record, there was plenty of excitement but no one was too surprised.
“I’m expecting to jump at least 14 feet this year,” she said. “It’s just another big step in the right direction, a baby step to where I want to be this year.
“Visualization is key for me, seeing myself go over the bar. And talking positively to myself and to others around me. I want to be talking and thinking positively. That’s simple and it’s very beneficial.”
As a junior, Fixsen is thinking about college but has made no decisions. Ciganik will be a pole vaulter at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs next season. He cleared 16 feet there in February and felt right at home.
“Their pole vaulting is just unbelievable out there,” he said. “And I looked into the benefits, from finances to after you graduate you have a job, no debt. I can’t wait.”
Five weeks remain in the Minnesota high school season, which will end with the state championships June 8-9 at Hamline. Between now and then, the gravity-defying Mounds View duo will keep aiming high.Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn