Isabella Baker can trace her love for track and field back to a dislike for gymnastics.
The intricacies of gymnastics were a trait that was ideal for pole vault and the Montgomery Academy senior utilized those traits to build herself into one of the top vaulters in the state.
That earned her an offer from South Alabama and on Wednesday Baker signed a letter of intent to compete collegiately with the Jaguars.
“It’s more of a sport where you have to know where you are in the air,” Baker said of pole vault, “or it could end up badly. All throughout the years of flipping and tumbling and getting to a high level (in gymnastics), I knew where I was in the air.”
And when she gave up gymnastics in the seventh grade and tried out for the Eagles’ track team, she could gauge her ability almost immediately in a program noted for producing record-setting pole vaulters.
“When I was in seventh grade, there was a girl named Caitlyn Dressler,” Baker said. “She was a senior and she ended up going to South Alabama on a scholarship for pole vault as well and I looked up to her. She won state, she cleared 11 (feet) and my seventh-grade year I cleared eight feet. As a seventh grader, that’s amazing.”
It was more than Dressler, who had just set a 3A state record for pole vaulters, had cleared when she was in the seventh grade, giving Baker an idea of where she stood in the sport.
Several years later, faced with those same questions about whether she could make it at the next level, she worked out in Mobile alongside Sean Collins, the All-American at South Alabama who had turned down other collegiate offers to follow his brother at the collegiate level.
“He is amazing,” Baker said. “With Sean just graduating, he’s coming back and coaching at South and helping with the pole vault. I thought Sean could potentially help me get to nationals. That’s what made it stand out.”
Baker ranks sixth among returning pole vaulters in the state and broke Dressler’s record by two inches, setting the school record of 11 feet, three inches. Baker’s signing marks the second consecutive year for an Eagle track performer to get the opportunity to continue competing in college after Isabella Rowland went to Campbell University last year.
“For the second year in a row, we’re signing a great student-athlete to a Division I program,” Montgomery Academy track coach Michael Floyd said. “I’ve been fortunate to work with Isabella since the seventh grade in the pole vault. She’s been one of my most dedicated athletes. She’s done a lot of things that, quite frankly, a lot of athletes aren’t willing to do.
“She is a great student and she has started a Bible study group here at the school. She is a great representative of what we do here at MA. She’s become a great leader in and out of the classroom.”