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May 8, 2008

Gamecock pole vaulters Liza Todd and Sallie Gurganus have one last set of jumps on Fri., May 9 in Chapel Hill, N.C. before hitting the big stage next weekend – the SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Auburn, Ala. Both have already qualified for the NCAA East Region in Tallahassee, Florida at the end of this month, with Todd’s jump of 12′ 9 leading the pack only to Gurganus’ 12′ 7 ½. Both are personal bests.

They sat down Thursday afternoon to talk pole vault, why they do it and where they are going.

What year are you, what is your major and where are you from?

Liza: I am a junior in Sport Management. I am from Columbia, S.C., and I graduated from Dreher High School.

Sallie: I am a sophomore in Exercise Science. I am from Todd, N.C., and I graduated from Watauga High School. Funny, my town is the last name of Liza.

Liza: I did know she was from Todd. I have gone home with her a few times and her family is fun. It’s a great town. Maybe someday I will move there.

You are both excellent students. How were your finals this semester?

Liza: I only had to take two and they weren’t too difficult. I have almost a 3.6 GPA and I am really proud of that. I have had to work hard to maintain both athletics and academics. I do it because I have good time management skills and focus on what I need to do.

Sallie: My finals went pretty well. It was a stressful week, but once it was over I was so relieved. I had a lot to get done and with so much was going on, especially with SECs coming up, it was stressful. But I think it went pretty well. I have a 3.75 GPA and it’s a lot of work to maintain my GPA. It’s something I really focus on doing and want to get it higher. I want a 3.8!

Liza: Sallie is always studying. She doesn’t give herself enough credit for the work she does.

How has your season been so far?

Liza: Up until Penn Relays it was average. I jumped 12’9 and won Penn Relays. I am excited for the rest of the season to unfold. My jump at Penn Relays was the second-highest jump in school history. I wasn’t surprised, but it was really exciting. Everything I was doing in practice was helpful. Sallie and Vica are both right there and they are getting ready to break out, too.

Sallie: It has had its ups and downs, but it’s been a big changing process for both of us. We know we are improving even if it doesn’t show, but it’s exciting to see those things happening. We work hard.

Liza: The biggest change is we have a lot harder conditioning work out. We are working to know how to focus and what to do at a meet. Focus has been the biggest change.

Sallie: Before I went out and did it for fun and now I am taking it more seriously. I am spending more time concentrating and focusing on what needs to be done not only physically, but also mentally.

What are your goals this year at the SEC Championships?

Liza: I want to place and maybe even be on the awards stand, which is not out of the question. I want to score!

Sallie: I would like to make top five and at least have two vaulters in the top five. I really hope we can do that.

What has the addition of Lawrence Johnson to the coaching staff been like? Did you know of his success prior to him coming to South Carolina? He won a silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in the pole vault.

Liza: We did know of him. When I knew he was being interviewed, I read up on him. He knows exactly what is going on and hasn’t been out of competition for long. He knows how to compete, what to do and how to get there.

Every now and then he vaults with us – during drills he will do demonstrations. He’s very good.

Sallie: I did know of him, but I learned more about him since he’s been here. He knows exactly what to do – he knows what we are going through when we get frustrated. It’s very easy for us to relate to him and he knows what is going on because he has been there.

It’s really impressive when he does drills for us. He has been out of for awhile, but he just does so well. He has so much power and is such a great example. The visual learning is terrific.

Any good stories on Lawrence Johnson?

Liza: His driving. He is an aggressive driver. It’s entertaining.

Sallie: We have some interesting trips coming back, but he is very competitive as a driver. He always gets into what he is talking about. He has very strong beliefs and it has brought up some very interesting conversations. He tells some funny stories from his past and when he vaulted in college and traveled the world. He is great to listen to just because of his ideas of the vault and the things he saw when he was out vaulting.

What led up to you pole vaulting?

Liza: It was a new girls’ sanctioned sport in 2000. My sister and I were both gymnasts. I was a gymnast for 12 years before – I think I started when I was three (in gymnastics). My Aunt Ruth Marie (who cheered here) talked to my mom and said we should pick it up. I stuck with it for a year and my sister went to a few meets and she stopped. I got in some newspapers with some success and she didn’t like that, so she came back and stuck with it from there. She didn’t vault in college, she didn’t want that stress of college athletes, but she was good. Her junior and senior year in high school – I beat her in every meet, but the state championship. It was bitter-sweet because I was happy she won, but bitter because I wanted to win. She comes to my meets now (her name is Tolly and is in grad school at Clemson). I won the title my junior and senior years – it was just my sister who stood in my way, but I still love her.

Sallie: I was also a gymnast and quit because it was too time-consuming. I wanted to play other sports. In middle school and high school I started running track – they said I looked like a distance runner. I picked up high jump and hurdles in high school. My coach – who also vaulted in college – said I should try the pole vault and it worked out pretty nicely. I won the state title my sophomore, junior and senior years.

Any vault heroes?

Liza: Not growing up, but because there weren’t girls jumping. I liked watching Stacy Dragilia.

In gymnastics, I didn’t really look up to anyone, but I loved the Magnificent Seven.

Sallie: I wasn’t into it when I was younger, but as I grew older, I started getting more interested. I now have more people I admire. I admire their training abilities – like Jenn Stuczynski who kind of come out of nowhere. She has been my hero. I also looked up to the Magnificent Seven as gymnasts.

How do the vaulters help each other?

Liza: In so many different ways. During the season we are focused on so many different things. Coach can’t be everywhere every time so we try to help each other. At meets we have to catch a mid-point mark and a take-off step and that tells us if our run is on. We help each other with making sure we do that. We film each other as well.

Sallie: We are around each other so much and we know each other so well. It’s helpful to have someone encouraging you. Not everyone understands the situations and what we have to do. We know more about each other than anyone else.

What is the best part of vaulting?

Liza: You work so hard to get to one point and you finally make the mark – it’s such a good feeling. Making the bar you know you need to. You knew what you could do in practice and you know your ability – when you make it, it’s such a great feeling. You know it’s your hard work, your coach and teammates that have helped you get there. It’s making the bar – that’s one of the best parts. And the people! I don’t know if I could do it if we didn’t have such a good environment and a strong support system with my coach and teammates.

Sallie: When you win! You just felt yourself go over the bar and you know you’ve gotten it. The changes I have made, the changes we have made in the last six years. It’s such an incredible thing to work at and see how far you have come. To see how much you have changed and how it influences how you do things in life. It has changed me so much this year – it has made me stronger and more dedicated. It’s really important in my life.

What is the worst part of vaulting?

Liza: (laughing): Missing out on some things. I see my friends going out of town for the weekend and we go to Greensboro, N.C. for a track meet. The time commitment and missing out on things.

Sallie: Not doing some of the other things that other college students are doing. The amount of time it consumes and the frustration at times. We can’t be involved in other things that other students are.

What are your career goals?

Liza: Right now I am focused on SECs and Regional and this season’s goals. I want to make it to Nationals.

Sallie: As far the future goes, I would like to finish my school and be a pediatrics doctor.

Tell me a funny story about each other?

Liza: We have lots! I have to think about one! Sallie is from Todd and I went home with her for molasses weekend. It was like stepping back into a different world. It’s totally different and in the middle of nowhere and she is a mountain girl. We had fun going up there and making molasses. She is a mountain girl.

As smart as she is, she can be an airhead. She can be forgetful. I found a money envelope in my car with her name on it and I almost threw it out because I thought she had taken already the money, but it was full of her money. I gave it to her and then she forgot it in the car again. But she knows it; she knows she can be an airhead. She bought me coffee one day for making sure she had her money both times.

Sallie: She is basically like the mother to everyone on the team and we call her `Granny’ because she is seriously like an old woman. She is always prepared for anything and always takes care of everything.