There was a time when Erica Machuca was hesitant to let her daughter, Ashley, give the pole vault a try.
While in high school, a male athlete from another school died after he hit his head while landing awkwardly. Erica was a three-sport athlete as she competed in basketball, track and field as well as volleyball. But it was that one tragic day that will always stick out in her mind.
Erica has always encouraged her three children, Jacob, Brandon and Erica to try as many sports possible in order to find the best fit for them.
Now, Ashley is following in her mother’s footsteps.
Like Erica, she plays in three sports. Ashley, an incoming senior at Lake Dallas, competes in track and field, volleyball and cheerleading.
Of course, track and field is a sport that she has taken a liking to ever since she was in middle school. Ashley competed in the high jump, 100-meter hurdles, 300 hurdles and the 4x100 relay. But she always felt that she could excel in the pole vault. It just took a little more time than she had originally anticipated.
“I like watching the Olympics and watching them go over the bar,” she said.
Even then, Erica said that she was “super nervous” for Ashley to compete in the pole vault. It wasn’t until the day of team tryouts during Ashley’s freshman year that Erica finally gave her approval for her daughter to give it a try.
When Ashley came home from that tryout, she told her mother that she had made the team. At that point, Erica said, “I couldn’t tell her no.”
"I did tell her that I was still hesitant and she said that she still wanted to try it,” she said. “The mats were bigger. The coaches assured me that it was a lot better now. They're a lot wider now. “At that point, it was more about keeping her active with a school activity. We want to give them every opportunity to try every different sport and figure out where they belong."
It didn’t take long to convince Ashley that she made the right choice.
At her first meet as a freshman, she finished in second place with a height of 7-6.
“It made me feel good,” Ashley said. “It made me wanting to keep getting better and better to keep working at it.”
She has done just that.
It was during junior season that Ashley began to take the pole vault more seriously. During a week in which there was a track meet, she would drive to Fort Worth almost every day to work with a private coach. If it wasn’t a week when there was a meet, she would work out there at least once, if not twice.
It was that same coach who provided Ashley with the best advice about how to approach the pole vault.
"It takes time and it takes practice and also to give 100% on every run, because if you don't, you're never going to get better,” she said.
And get better, she has. Not by a little, but by leaps and bounds.
Everything started to click for Machuca at the District 6-5A meet when she cleared the bar at 9-0 – a mark that not only tied the school record but also qualified her for the area meet.
“That's when it actually hit me, because I didn't think that I was going to make it past districts,” she said.
It was just the start of a record-breaking postseason for Machuca. At the area meet, she recorded a vault of 9-6 to break the school record. Then, in her final meet of the season, Machuca cleared the bar at 10-0 at the Region I-5A meet in Lubbock – the third straight meet that she either tied or broke the school record.
“It was surprising that I got 10 feet that day, because I didn’t have a good warm-up,” Machuca said. “I was kind of iffy until I went out there and had the mindset that I was going to do three attempts, and I was going to do well all three attempts.
“I just had to give it my best, and whatever happens, happens. I just had that mindset and it just kept going up and up and up, until I finally couldn’t clear 10-6.”
Mom was in attendance at Lowery Field in Lubbock when Ashley eclipsed her own school record.
"She can be really good, because she dedicates and practices hours on end,” Erica said. “She'll go out of her way for places that can help her improve in whatever sport that she does. That was her goal and it was our goal to make sure that she accomplished it. It was super exciting. I think that I was the one that was more excited than anybody else. I was screaming like a little girl."
Watching Ashley break the school record didn’t come as a big surprise to Lake Dallas pole vault coach Ky Edwards.
“Ashley’s commitment to become the best pole vaulter was proven through her ability to get in vaulting work whenever available,” Edwards said. “When we didn’t have the poles she needed or when the weather didn’t cooperate, she always found clubs to practice at.
“A lot of times, she would go through three or four workouts a day. Her attitude and competitiveness are paramount to her success, along with her amazing and supportive parents.”
Ashley has yet to receive a college offer for track and field. But, based all of the hard work that she has put in, expect that to change her senior season. However, that doesn’t mean that she is going to rest on her laurels.
For all the success Machuca has enjoyed in the pole vault, she has no intentions of resting on her laurels. And as she continues to work towards her first college track and field offer, Machuca hopes to take her game to new heights as a senior.
“My goal is to definitely get over 11 or 12 feet this year,” she said. “I'm going to have to put in a lot of work to do that.”