Pacific seniors Gavin McDonald and Casie Cullinane have been vaulting together for years.
The tandem has stood out in the pole vaulting event each spring for the past four years, amassing four individual Four Rivers Conference championships, three individual district championships and four state medals combined between the two of them in the event.
This year, both ended on the podium Saturday, May 25, in the Class 4 MSHSAA State Track and Field Championships at Washington High School, where the state meet was moved after tornado damage at Jefferson City earlier that week.
Both had the highest state finish of their four-year varsity careers with McDonald placing fourth in the state in the boys competition and Cullinane tying for seventh in the girls.
“Both of the Pacific pole vaulters were happy to be on the medal stand but as competitive kids, they would have liked to go a little higher in the event and in their place at the meet,” Pacific Girls Head Coach Justin Perriguey said. “That kind of competitive attitude is what has driven them to improve over the last four years. Both Gavin McDonald and Casie Cullinane improved the school pole vault records by over a foot this season. As a coach, you don’t expect to see that kind of major jump in a school record. Those two are exceptional young people and have a tremendous work ethic. They have been a lot of fun to coach.”
McDonald was coming off a Class 4 Section 2 championship in which he jumped a career best of 15-3, the school record he leaves behind. At the state meet, he exceeded all of his previous jumps, save that one, ending with a mark of 14-9.
“I didn’t jump 15, but I’m really glad that I jumped 14-9,” McDonald said. “It was my second best height of the year. It was nice weather. I’m glad that we were able to do it today.”
The biggest goal of the season for McDonald was to not finish eighth again in the state finals after taking home eighth-place state medals each of the previous two years.
“Gavin was already a two time state medalist so he wanted to improve his standing on the podium,” Perriguey said. “He went in at the highest starting height he had all season. It was a smart move and I think it paid off. He had a great meet and would have had to equal his personal best to move up a spot. I’m really proud of Gavin and all that he was able to achieve this year.”
The 2019 medal was the first of Cullinane’s career. A three-time Four Rivers Conference champion in the event, Cullinane set her personal best at the conference meet this season with a jump of 11-3.
“My season was really good and I got consistently 11 feet all year,” she said. “It was really cool to get there with the improvements that I’ve made all year.”
Cullinane finished first in Class 4 District 3 for the first time in her career this season, clearing the bar at 11-0. She then marked at 10-6 in the state finals to tie Bolivar’s Sarah Green and Moberly’s Molly Greene.
“I’m pretty excited that I got to get on the podium this year,” Cullinane said. “I worked really hard over the summer and the winter this past year, especially with the coaches up at Pole Vault STL and my coaches at home. It was really cool to finally get up there.”
Cullinane first set the school record in the event at the Four Rivers Conference meet in 2018, jumping 10-1. She went on to break that record four separate times in 2019.
“The goal for Casie after last year was to make the medal stand this year and she accomplished that goal,” Perriguey said. “She jumped well, just not as high as she would have liked. She worked extremely hard and improved a tremendous amount this season. I am very proud of her and all she accomplished. I know that she will continue to improve in college.”
McDonald and Cullinane will remain teammates next season as both are signed to continue their vaulting careers at Maryville University.
“This is our sixth year vaulting together and (we have) four more years, so we’ll be vaulting together for 10 years by the time we’re done,” McDonald said. “She’s actually living on the floor beneath me next year at college, so we’ll be close.”
McDonald will join a men’s pole vaulting squad at Maryville that includes senior Drew Kowalski. Kowalski currently holds the outdoor (15-3) and indoor (14-9.5) school records at Maryville in the event.
Cullinane should quickly etch her name into the record book at her new school also. The current outdoor record in the event for the Maryville women is 10-2, set by Cathy Otte in 2006. The indoor record, set by Katie Kennedy in 2015, is 10-4.