Makenna Barton’s freshman year is now in the books. The girl known as “Mackie B” in her Woodinville days, competed in the pole vault for the Washington Huskies. A brilliant student and tough competitor, she had headed over to Montlake with high hopes.
“College is so different,” Barton said. “I had my ups and downs with athletics, school and friends. But right now, I can say that I’ve learned so much about myself as an athlete.”
As happens with all freshmen, time demands gave Barton a rude awakening.
“Fall quarter was super difficult for me,” she said. “It was such a difference from what high school was. If I had twenty minutes between classes I couldn’t spend it on the phone. I never realized how much time it was going to take. I would have an 8:30 a.m. class, 9:30 class, 10:30 class, then go to lunch. Then I’d go spend 45 minutes in the training room before going to practice at 1 or 2 p.m. Then shower and dinner and tutoring sometimes in the evenings.
Before you know it, it would be 9 p.m. and I’m back in my dorm and it’s time to study!”
In the past, Barton always relied on the pole vault in stressful times. She called it her “comfort zone.” But right away, UW vault coach Pat Licari overturned that applecart.
“Our coach said `forget everything you know about pole vaulting, you’re gonna do it my way’. I was like `WHAT?’
“But I’m forever grateful because I will become better than I ever would have been otherwise,” Barton said. “I had setbacks at the beginning of the year, because it was like learning how to ride a bike for the first time. But I love the technique of pole vault. It [became] super fun to learn new things.”
At Washington’s first indoor meet, Barton got to wear the Husky uniform for the first time. The moment was startling.
“It hit me,” she said. “THIS IS FOR REAL. I’m a U-Dub pole vaulter!”
Come outdoor season, things were looking up for Mackie B. She’d progressed enough that she made the traveling team.
First trip was to USC. But then disaster struck She was using a longer pole – 14’. On some level she felt intimidated by it. On her first attempt, she used bad technique as she planted and took off from the ground. She held onto the pole. Moments later, she consulted with her coach. He told her to adjust her steps. Barton raced down the runway, but once again she locked up mentally.
“For my third vault, I was so frustrated with myself,” Barton said. “I was like, `Don’t be a big baby! You’re going to complete the vault because you can do it.’ I ran down the runway, swung up and completed the vault, But because I didn’t take off the way I should have, I was landing short. I got tangled up with the bar. I put down my left foot [onto the bar].”
At first, trainers thought she tore her MCL. But her ankle soon swelled to the size of a baseball. Just like that, her outdoor season was over.
“I was devastated to say the least,” Barton said. “I could have prevented what happened. I was on crutches. The plane ride home was the worst thing in the whole world. My foot was on the ground underneath the airplane seats. It
was THE WORST.”
Barton learned she would get an opportunity to receive a medical redshirt season and a fifth year. In the meantime, she began working with her trainer to rehab and come back stronger.
Off the field distractions then cropped up. In late May, head coach Greg Metcalf resigned after allegations of mistreatment from distance runners were made to the UW administration. Barton said that because she wasn’t a distance runner, she didn’t experience any issues with Metcalf.
“I had never been a part of a coaching change,” Barton said. “A new head coach can fire the staff and bring in new coaches. That was scary for everyone. It created a lot of team division at the end of the year. But we had an athletes-only meeting and that was a very unifying thing.”
In mid-June, Washington hired brothers Maurica and Andy Powell to run the track and field program. Vault coach Pat Licari was asked to turn in his keys, but was encouraged to reapply for his job. As of this writing, Barton still hopes Licari will be retained.
“I’m super hopeful for next season,” Barton said. “Super motivated and hungry to see results. I’ve been working so hard. There was no physical validation this year from my hard work. So I’m excited for next winter to compete and set PRs.
“...Freshman year was a wild ride, to say the least!”