THIS YEAR BEGAN with Amanda Moll (Capital, Olympia, Washington) becoming the first high school girl ever to clear 15-feet when she flew over a bar set at 15-1½ (4.61) at Reno’s Pole Vault Summit on January 13. It didn’t take overly long — just 85 days to be exact — for twin sister Hana to become the second (and the first outdoors) over with her 15-0 (4.57) win at Arcadia.
It’s fair for fans to wonder, after seeing the HSR in the event fall with regularity in recent years, with 5 athletes breaking the absolute mark 10 times in the last decade, are the Molls taking the mark to a place where it will be safe for years to come?
Perhaps. Says Amanda (“Mandy” to her friends): “We have a lot to go. I’m not putting any limits on myself.”
Hana is of a similar mind: “I still feel like I have a lot I can improve on. I think it would be a silly thing to say that I’ve maxed out, peaked my technique. There are a lot of things I can improve on in my plant and especially in the upper half of my vault. And just strength and speed — I definitely think I can get faster and stronger.”
Intriguing possibility indeed, and perhaps especially so for Washington fans, as the two Husky signees have gone higher this year than anyone in the NCAA.
So just how did the twins become two of the most promising American teens the event has ever seen? By all accounts it appears to have been a perfect collision of talent, opportunity and coaching.
They weren’t always vaulters. The two spent much of their childhood doing gymnastics. Says Amanda, “Once we stopped gymnastics — I stopped in 7th grade, Hana in 6th grade — we were looking for a sport to do to fill the gap because gymnastics took up a lot of our time and we really still enjoyed sports. We tried out rock climbing and mountain biking, but once we got old enough for pole vault, my mom signed us up and we decided to give it a try. It worked so well with gymnastics in our background.”
The progression came steadily, and it was always promising. In 8th grade, Amanda cleared 11-11¾ (3.65), Hana 11-7¾ (3.55). In 9th grade, it was Amanda at 14-3½ (4.36) with Hana at 13-1½ (4.00). The next year, Amanda cleared 14-7¼ (4.45) and Hana 14-4 (4.37). Last year, Amanda hit 14-9½ (4.51) while Hana cleared 14-8 (4.47).
They found a supportive team at Olympia, and twice a week they make the 60–90 minute drive to Seattle to work with Tim Reilly of the Northwest Pole Vault Club. He covers the technical aspects of vaulting, while Olympia coach Mike Strong handles plyos, speed and strength training.
Reilly has pointed out that while Amanda often hit milestones first, the two are essentially competitive equals. Since they entered high school, Amanda has the smallest of leads on their won-loss record (23-22, as near as we can tell). And last summer, it was Hana who captured gold at the World Junior (U20) Championships in Colombia, where Amanda finished 5th.
But to even frame their history in anything resembling an adversarial light seems somehow wrong. The twins don’t see each other as rivals, though they do compete. “It’s like having a teammate and a best friend and a competitor,” says Amanda. “Because when we’re going into most high school meets, it’s usually just the two of us competing against each other unless it’s a big national meet.”
Hana adds, “If you’re a high school athlete and you’re at a level where not a lot of people are jumping your height, it’s really hard to find the motivation to compete at the high level you do. So having Mandy with me, it’s having that automatic person to compete against and push myself every single time I compete.”
Naturally, they have good days and bad days, and outside observers would be hard-pressed to guess which will vault highest on any given day. Hana notes, “One of the things that I really like having Mandy about is if I have a bad meet, I feel it automatically cheers me up to see her doing well. If she does really well, I kinda forget that I had a bad meet because I’m so excited for her. It takes the pressure off doing bad if the other person does good because, you know, at least one of us did well and then it’s motivation for the next meet.”
And when one of them gets the big headlines at a meet, whether it be a World Junior gold or a High School Record, the other doesn’t feel left out, they say. Amanda explains, “We’ve gotten used to it, because it’s happened many times where usually one of us does really well. We’re not forgotten because I think Hana and I are just… our image is so intertwined. I don’t think it matters to us, at least for me. And I think Hana can agree with that.”
“I do agree,” Hana interjects.
Yet despite all the similarities that twinship brings, the two have their distinctions. Says Hana, “From what other people have said to me, I’m a lot more outgoing in various social settings, and Mandy’s a lot more reserved. People say I’m friendlier.”
Laughter follows. “Mandy’s still friendly, but she’s just a little bit…”
“I’m quiet,” says Amanda.
“She’s quiet,” agrees Hana.
On the runway there are also differences. Says Amanda, “Technically, we’re definitely different vaulters. We both have strengths and weaknesses. I think Hana’s plant is definitely a huge strength of hers. And I’m usually pretty good at the top end. We’re working on different things constantly. I don’t think we’ve ever worked on the same thing at the same time, unless it’s like the speed into the plant.”
One change for their senior year is that neither is doing other individual events for Olympia. Last year, Hana won the state title in the 100 hurdles and Amanda won it in the long jump. Explains Hana, “It was a lot on my body last year. It kind of makes the torque worse on my hips, so it doesn’t help my body at all. I love the event, but this year we’re just doing the relays.”
Last season, the twins helped the Olympic 4×1 to a State win, and they’re hoping to defend that title this year. “I think we have a good chance,” says Hana. “Our fastest runner unfortunately tore her Achilles this fall, so we’re definitely going to have to make up for that, but I think we might have a chance.”
Amanda has already started out with the relay this season, while Hana sat the first meet out, as traveling to Texas and Arcadia left her with a tight hamstring that they are resting for now.
In the last few months of their high school experience, they will focus on their school season and getting ready for college. Amanda explains, “I’m not 100% clear on our plans for the summer…Uh, so Hana seems like she is…”
“I know we’re going to do Nike Nationals this June and also outdoor nationals,” says Hana. “I think we’re going to do Senior nationals this year. I don’t think we’re going to go for U20, but that part’s up in the air. We want to stop vaulting maybe around July, so August and September we can start preparing for college and taking a break from vaulting. Traveling and spending time with friends. Last year, it was a lot to continue vaulting until August, which I really hadn’t done before at that level. It was really exhausting mentally.”
But what if one or both were to qualify for the World Championships in Budapest? “If we make the team, we’ll probably go, because it’s an amazing opportunity. It really all depends on how we’re feeling,” says Amanda.
Then comes college. At Washington, they’ll be working with vault coach and Olympic medalist Toby Stevenson. Joining the Husky staff as a volunteer assistant will be their longtime mentor Reilly. “That wasn’t part of our decision,” says Hana. “It was a bonus, something that Toby Stevenson brought up to Tim as an option because I guess he wanted to learn from Tim about us. The Olympic Trials will be in our first year, so just having him there for that smooth transition… They’re going to work together and help coach us.”
That’s great news for the Molls and Washington, though perhaps a tough break for the rest of the NCAA. In any case, fans can look forward to plenty more excitement from the Molls in the years to come.