Their stories are as unique as they are different.
But Rock Island pole vaulting seniors Alex Axup and Cedreahna (CeeCee) Kennedy have one thing in common, besides the fact that they have advanced to this weekend’s state meet in the IHSA Class 3A pole vault — perseverance.
The pair advanced by clearing 10 feet, 3 inches at the Belleville Sectional on Friday, and both need to go higher, possibly as high as 11-3, to earn a state medal based on state seeds from the rest of the sectionals.
But they don’t care about that. They could do it, but reaching state was a major accomplishment.
“This has been a goal of mine for two years,” Axup said. “We’ve really been working hard for it. It was a huge goal for me to try and accomplish.”
Kennedy had to overcome an ACL injury and torn meniscus to her left knee during her sophomore summer. She missed most of last season and really wasn’t close to full strength until two weeks ago. But not going last year motivated her this year.
“It means a lot I made it to state this year,” said Kennedy, who also made state in the 100 hurdles.. “It’s something I was dreaming of. After my junior year, it kind of hurt not being able to go to state. This year, it’s been a couple of struggles, but still there is success. I worked hard with therapy. I come to practice an hour early just to stretch and make sure I am good for practice.”
Axup went out for pole vault after observing the event throughout her freshman year.
“It looked cool,” she said of why she gave it a try. “It is. It’s indescribable. You’ve got to put in so much work to get the timing right and the technique right. So when you clear the bar with good technique, it feels really good to go back and watch the film.”
And at 5-foot-1, Axup is unique to her event, but it hasn't held her back. Axup broke a 14-year-old school record by clearing 10-7 at the Rock Island Invitational this year.
“It’s harder because my takeoff is lower than my teammates,” she said of her height. “My legs are shorter. I make up for it with hard work.”
Her coach, former Rock Island pole vaulter Terell Williams, agrees.
“Alex has put in a lot of work in the offseason since not qualifying (for state) last season,” he said.
Kennedy, who injured her knee while going for a spike in volleyball and landing only on her left leg, also does diving and swimming. She is a pure athlete, Williams said.
“Even though she’s been out most of the season, she stepped right back in for conference, was able to jump the height she needed to because she’s just a raw talent,” he said.
Kennedy also started pole vaulting as a sophomore after first trying high jump. She did OK, then got hurt during the summer but came back to it last year anyway. She missed most of last season but did clear 8-9 in 2016 in the Western Big Six meet.
Both her and Axup could place Saturday at O’Brien Field on the campus of Eastern Illinois University, according to head coach Tammy Vesey.
“Terell is hoping that they can go 11 feet on Friday,” she said. “If they do, that will get them to the finals.”
She points to the Rocks’ 400 relay team a year ago that came in seeded 28th and walked away with a fifth-place medal.
“So we always expect the unexpected,” she said.
Kennedy was thrilled just to reach a state qualifying height two weeks ago at Soule Bowl. However, she’s aiming much higher now.
“When I cleared that bar, it was so much (fun),” she said. “I’ve never cleared that before. Last week, it was 10-3 again. I feel I can go 11-6. I’ve got to get this technique down.
“I’ve got to get upside down on that pole. My speed and strength are there.”
With field events taking place first at most meets, it’s then on to the hurdles for Kennedy, where she’s often the only one heading that way from the pole vault pit.
“It’s like a warm-up for my hurdles,” said Kennedy, who plans to do both at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff next year.
Axup, who will be pole vaulting at St. Ambrose University next year, hopes to set a personal best at state. She knows there will be plenty of good competition.
“It’s just about doing your best and vaulting for yourself and not comparing yourself to other people,” she said.
That begins in practice, where two others, Mollee Murphy and Kylee Homan, would have made the top six seeds at sectionals had more than two per team been allowed to compete. Murphy reached state a year ago but did not make the top two at conference, which is how the Rocks decide who’s entered at sectionals.
It’s clear Williams believes in the two he had left.
“Pole vault is a lot of technique but ultimately you want to be able to run real fast and jump with a pole in your hands,” he said. “So you will notice CeeCee qualified for state in the hurdles so obviously she has the speed.
“Although Alex doesn’t have the same top-end speed but she can probably run 30 meters with anyone on our team,” he noted. “It’s that first 0-to-30 meters that you need to have to be able to burst and kind of jump at the end.”
Williams knows what the pair have in common may be the reason they’re going to state.
“Dedication is key for (pole vaulting) because of the technical aspects,” he said. “So you can plateau, have bad days but if you are not committed to it, you can walk away from pole vault before you hit your stride in pole vault.
“These girls have shown the resilience to continue to participate in the event and get better over the years. I am happy that they stayed.”