Rebecca Libell soars through the air with the greatest of ease. She’s a daring young lady, but not on a trapeze. She’s one of the best in pole vault at the scholastic level.
“I really love the feeling of flying,” said the 16-year-old Bethel Park High School senior. “Flying through the air is the thing I like the best about my sport. I love competing and really laying it all on the line.”
The WPIAL championships and berths in the PIAA finals will be on the line May 17 for all track and field athletes and Libell plans to be on top of the podium in her specialty event. Action commences at 1 p.m. at the Baldwin High School stadium complex.
Libell is likely to also compete in the long jump, high hurdles and the 4x100 relay. She expects Molly DeBone from Hempfield and Maeve Carei from Uniontown to provide the stiffest opposition for her quest for gold at the district and state level. DeBone and Carei finished in between Libell, in third and fifth places, at last year’s WPIAL championships. DeBone was sixth at states.
“I didn’t place last year at states. So I would like to do that too,” Libell said. “Last year, I didn’t know what to expect but this year I know better even though states probably has the highest pressure.”
For Libell, vaulting has been a five-year process so far. Because she is a competitor, she immediately answered the challenge when her middle school coach encouraged her to try track in the seventh grade because it would be something that she would enjoy.
“He also told me that I would be good at it so I said, ‘okay, why not? I’ll try.’ I love competing,” Libell added. “It’s my favorite thing to do. Plus, I love learning new things and getting to use all of my attributes.”
Under the watchful eye of Mark Jacobs, Libell honed her skills. She attended his summer programs and progressed. Today, Jacobs continues to instruct Libell as he is the vaulting coach at Bethel Park.
“Pole vault is one of the most technical events in all of sports and Becca understands the event. She takes the time to work on and improve her technique. Her willingness to work on the small, technical things is important in pole vaulting,” Jacobs said.
“Becca has understood from the beginning that you can’t just be strong or fast, which do help a lot, to be good at pole vaulting. You need to have the proper technique and that is something she has put a lot of time and effort into,” Jacobs added.
Currently, Libell ranks as the best at Bethel Park. She set the school record of 11 feet when she finished fourth at the WPIAL championships last spring. Although she is breaking in a new pole, Libell hopes to reach 12 feet.
“It’s been kind of rough,” Libell said of the new pole, “because I keep psyching myself out.”
Jacobs, however, noted the determination in Libell’s ability to overcome adversity and reach record heights.
“Her hard work and dedication,” he said, enable Libell to achieve the marks she has. “She puts a lot of time in every day working on her technique, trying to create muscle memory so she does not have to think while she does the activity.”
Libell is not limited to her record activity on the track. She ranks in the top 5 on the list of Bethel Park hurdlers in the 100-meter distance and sixth in the long jump, which she just picked up this spring. She also has launched her career in the shot put but the foul weather this season has prevented any opportunities for her to compete in the event.
Pole vault, however, affords Libell the best chance to advance to the PIAA championships to be held March 25-26 at Shippensburg University. BP track coach Brian Scott and Jacobs expect Libell to do well enough at the district level to earn a berth in the state event.
“It is difficult to say a goal is a particular place because literally pole vault can be such an up and down event,” Scott said. “I would like to see her perform well, beat her height of 11 feet from last year and to make states again.”
Jacobs talks with his athletes each year and asks them to write down three goals for the season. Winning the WPIAL championship, placing at states and besting her personal record with a 12-foot vault are on that list.
While Libell has won the pole vault at major meets this spring, including the Tri-State Track Coaches Association Championships, Mt. Lebanon and South Fayette Invitationals, she has performed well and placed in all those competitions in her off events, hurdles and long jump.
“I enjoy high hurdles and the long jump makes sense because its similar to pole vault. The only difference is I’m not carrying a pole for long jump. The approach is very similar. So that has helped. But, I like it. I like to do anything,” said Libell, who also enjoys swimming, but does not compete on the school’s team.
That spunk and can-do attitude has drawn Libell to consider a career in the military. She hopes to participate in track at the college level and is interested in the Naval Academy or West Point.
“I’ll get to work out all day. That’s kind of cool,” she said enthusiastically. “I love to exercise.
“But honestly, I am open to any college where I can study and be competitive in track. I don’t want to just go through the motions,” added Libell, who will apply her 3.75 GPA towards a major in psychology or a career in physical therapy. “I want to be able to compete with the best athletes and be the best I can be.”
The academies are a great fit for Libell, said Scott. He believes she is an “excellent” candidate.
“Becca is a leader, focused and extremely hard working. She is very analytical in her approach to pole vault and that helps her to be successful at it,” Scott said.
Jacobs also noted that Libell has the right mind to do well and compete well at that level as well as do all the other things the academies require.
“Whoever gest the opportunity to work with her will be very lucky to have her,” Jacobs said.
Scott and Jacobs are more than delighted that they have one more year to coach Libell. She is an asset to them and a valuable resource for her teammates.
“Becca is an excellent, caring, dedicated young woman. She does not accept being mediocre and she is a leader,” Scott said. “She helps to motivate others and she does not give up.”
Jacobs called her “an amazing athlete but an even better person.”
“The one thing I will remember about her after she graduates is her willingness to work with the younger athletes. At times, she is like an assistant coach for me, taking kids through drills and leading practices when I am not around. I have never had a bad word or comment mentioned about her from another teacher or coach. That may be what I am most proud of.”
All of Bethel Park will be proud of Libell if she achieves her all her ambitions. She would love to be a two-time WPIAL and PIAA champion and she would embrace being an Olympian.
“I’d like to lay it out there on the line this year and do the same next year, and oh, yes, the Olympics,” she added. “That’s every athlete’s dream.”