By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — If you look up the definition of engine, you’ll get “a machine with moving parts that converts power into motion.”
So it’s fitting that Charlotte pole vaulter Natalie Jen — who’s also a weightlifter — has the nickname “N-Jen” which is meant to sound like the word engine.
The 5-foot-2 sophomore converted power into a silver medal at the 2016 state meet with a height of 11 feet in just her first year competing in the event.
“She’s a competitor, and competitors are ones to strike their game up when they have to. That’s what happened last week,” Charlotte track coach Jerry Voss said.
Jen set a new Tarpons record last week when she won a regional championship with a height of 11-6. That means after an incredible freshman campaign, she went nearly a full calendar year without improving.
“I was really worried,” Jen said. “Everything was a completely different experience this year for me.”
The words “sophomore slump” were thrown around, but that didn’t discourage Jen from working hard to return to Bradenton. She enters this weekend’s state championships at IMG Academy as the No. 1 seed for Class 3A after the record-setting performance.
Part of what delayed her progress was becoming stronger as a weight lifter.
“Everything came easy last year,” Voss said. “The heights she acquired came really easy. We sat down in the beginning of the year about how she’s bigger and stronger, and how that creates some problems she’s going to have to work through during the year.”
Jen recently switched to 13-foot pole meant for a 130-pounder, which she used when she broke the school record last week.
When she cleared the distance, it was a moment Jen, and her coach Jeremy Green, won’t be forgetting any time soon.
“I’m sitting there cheering, and screaming ‘Yes,’” Green said. “When she clears the bar, it feels like I’m clearing the bar, too. It’s fun to see her get to new heights because I know she’s capable of it. When it finally all clicks together, it just feels good.”
Jen entered last year’s state meet as the hunter. Now, she’s the one with a target on her back, and she recognizes the pressure and expectations that come with being the top seed.
“I try not to let it bother me,” she said. “Knowing it, I feel like it puts a target on my back. All the other girls are going to try to go after me and see if they can get me. So it makes me want to work harder.”
Jen isn’t the only local pole vaulter in Bradenton this weekend. North Port’s Morgan Gloster is Class 4A’s No. 2 seed.
AREA ATHLETES HEADED TO STATES
Name Grade Event
Alexis Francavilla 11 Long Jump
Carly Lovett 11 High Jump
Morgan Gloster 12 Pole Vault
Natalie Jen 10 Pole Vault
D’Vonte Price 12 110-meter hurdles
Chavarria, Augustin, 4×100 relay
Dana Donovan 12 100-meters
Britney Augustin 11 300-meter hurdles
Eunice Noel 9 100-meter hurdles
La Tisha Pereira 12 High Jump
Jack Fining 12 Shot Put
Grace, Warren, 4×100 relay
TJ Luther 11 Triple Jump
Kelsi Ogilvie 12 3200-meters
Kelsi Ogilvie 12 1600-meters
Ogilvie, Mitchell, 4×800 relay
Kristen Robinson 12 3200-meters
Maddison Welch 11 800-meters
Dylan Brady 11 High Jump
Brayden Curry 12 Shot Put