2023 HS Girls Athlete Of The Year — Hana Moll

Hana Moll more than achieved her goal “just to have a fun last high school season.” In the climax of a banner campaign, she raised the prep record to 15-3 and befriended elite stars in Budapest. (VICTOR SAILER/PHOTO RUN)

THOUGH SHE WAS already knocking on the door of national- and world-class pole vaulting as a junior, Hana Moll (Capital, Olympia, Washington) was not planning to leave high school competition behind in ’23. She only intended to mix in a few professional meets while savoring her senior season. In the end, she not only dominated at the scholastic level, but made it to the biggest stage in the world to cap a campaign that earned her T&FN’s High School Girls Athlete Of The Year honors.

“My goals going into the year were just to have a fun last high school season,” says the 18-year-old Moll, who as an 11th-grader had a best of 14-8 indoors and won the World Junior (U20) title. “I wanted to continue doing high school track, so that’s what I did for the majority of the spring season. I did more national [pro] meets here and there, but most of the time I was focusing on my high school meets.”

After a high school campaign where her only serious competition came from twin sister Amanda, Moll went on to finish 3rd at the USATF Championships in July and score a spot on the World Championships team. In Budapest she raised her PR to 15-3 (4.65) and tied for 9th in the final.

“It was surreal,” she says of that experience. “Being able to interact with athletes at that level, especially at my age, I feel like it will really help me going forward, because now I have that perspective of what it’s like to be at the top level.”

Of course, before Hana could be the top prep vaulter in the country, she first had to be the top vaulter in the Moll household. The slightly younger Amanda had the edge in ’22, coming out on top at the State meet, Nike Outdoors and the USATF Junior Champs. She solidified her claim to that title as ’23 began with an absolute HSR (and American Junior Record) at the Pole Vault Summit in Reno, becoming the first prep over 15 feet with her 15-1½ clearance to win the women’s division.

Hana finished 3rd there at 14-9½, then a few weeks later topped that same height to place 5th at the USATF Indoor in Albuquerque, three spots ahead of Amanda.

Moll joined the 15-foot club on the dot in April to win the Arcadia Invitational. She then finished 2nd to Amanda at the Texas Relays, before winning the Washington 3A title (by more than 2-feet) and Nike Outdoor.

By that time Amanda had stepped away from the event. “She had a mental block, which is very common in pole vault,” Hana says. “It inhibited her from being able to run down and plant on the runway.” Amanda continued to compete in other events, however, and the sisters helped Olympia win State titles in the 4×1 and 4×2.

With prep competition done, Hana planned to wind down her season at the USATF Champs, mixing it up with the pros one last time before getting ready for college at Washington.

“I was obviously the youngest one on the field, so I felt very inexperienced compared to everyone else,” she says. “And I felt like I was there for the experience and everyone else was there to qualify [for Worlds].”

With nothing to lose in Eugene, Moll decided to take a chance and make a big change. “At USATF nationals I decided to try an 8-step approach, so I moved my step back 14ft and I had more run, so I was able to get on bigger poles,” she says. “That was the first time I had ever done an 8-step, during the warmup at the national meet.” (The indoor facility where she trains does is not big enough to accommodate the longer approach.)

Adding to the drama, her warmup poles were delayed in making their way to the field. “I was freaking out a little bit, and Katie Moon came over and made sure I was OK,” Moll recalls. “I really appreciated that.” Moon went on to win the competition easily and since she had a World Champs Wild Card as defending champion, the U.S. would have three more slots for Budapest. Moll surprised everyone — including herself — by finishing 3rd and clearing 15-1½ (on her first attempt) to equal Amanda’s HSR.

“I had no expectations of making the team,” she admits. “I just wanted to work on trying meets like, no matter the outcome.” Without the automatic qualifying mark for Worlds, however, she would have to sweat it out for a few weeks before ultimately being added to the U.S. team based on her WA ranking. Of course, that meant extending her season well into August.

It was obviously worthwhile, as she raised the HSR in the qualifying round, her 15-3 being exactly what was needed to make the final. That moved her to No. 2 on the all-time world Junior list, behind the 15-5½ of Finland’s Wilma Murto. Two days later Moll handled the pressure admirably, clearing 14-9 on her first attempt and finishing tied for 9th.

“The crowd was very different from what I’m used to in America,” she says of the boisterous 30,000-plus fans in attendance. “It definitely gave me energy and didn’t make me nervous.”

After Worlds, she took a weeklong family trip to Slovenia for hiking, one of many outdoor activities Moll enjoys, along with mountain biking and rock climbing, which is a particular favorite.

“On weekends I try to go, and sometimes bring friends, because it’s really relaxing,” she says. “Rock climbing does put a lot of strain on your body, but it’s also great cross training for pole vault. It builds upper body strength in fun ways.”

Moll is now settled in for her frosh year in Seattle, about an hour up the road from home. She signed with Washington to work with associate head coach Toby Stevenson, the ’04 Olympic silver medalist who has guided a string of top collegiate vaulters, most recently Nastassja Campbell, the NCAA outdoor runner-up. Sweetening the deal was the addition of Moll’s club coach, Tim Reilly, to the Huskies’ staff as an assistant.

“Having that collaboration between Tim and Coach Stevenson has been great,” Moll says, and she’s been embracing the fall training. “The workload for athletics is a lot more, but that’s what I expected coming into college. I’m really enjoying the team and I’m still training with my sister, which I love.

“She’s starting to get back on the runway and working on her aggressiveness,” Hana says of Amanda. “I think Coach Stevenson is really helping her with that. I’m sure she’ll be back in no time.”

Moll is now eager to test herself at the NCAA level. While her PR gives her a leg up on the top returning collegians, she doesn’t want to become overconfident. “This year my goals are just to maintain what I’ve been doing,” she says. “I know that your first year in collegiate season can be very hard. I want to continue that upwards trajectory into the Olympic year.”

Indeed, Paris is definitely on her mind. “I feel a lot better about my chances than I did before I made the world team,” she admits, “but there are a lot of really good vaulters in the United States, so it’s still going to be really hard.”