Manheim Township graduate Sydney Horn has already accomplished quite a bunch in her first season competing at the nation’s highest collegiate level. Her latest feat came last week, when she placed sixth in the pole vault at the NCAA Division I women’s outdoor track and field championships.
A freshman at High Point University in North Carolina, Horn's performance last week is the highest finish in program history at the outdoor championships.
But the greatest athletes often want more.
“I wish I could’ve gone higher,” Horn said.
Horn was dealt a bad hand at the championships when she was randomly selected to go first for each jump among the 24 competitors.
“No one wants to be first in the order,” she said. “It always happens because it’s random. Plus, I was tired going into that because of travel and the time change. ... And running into a headwind was a little challenging. There are so many factors to pole vaulting, you can’t let it affect you.”
Of the 24 pole vaulters at the outdoor championships, five were freshmen. Of them, Horn’s leap of 14 feet, 6 inches was the top mark among rookies during the 2021 season entering the national championships.
That’s worth noting, because Louisiana State junior Lisa Gunnarson cleared the bar at 14-5¼ inches to win the national title at the outdoor championships.
Horn cleared a height of 14-1¼ in her third jump.
“I was disappointed,” Horn said.
Still, Horn is among the top six college pole vaulters in the country. And, again, she’s only a freshman.
“It was pretty special,” she said. “I’m just trying to enjoy the moment.”
This has admittedly been a learned trait for Horn. Asked what sports has taught her about life, she said, “It’s helped my perspective of things and knowing everyone is going to struggle at some point. Everyone goes through that phase of struggling when trying to be super good.”
In eighth grade, Horn was introduced to pole vault by Manheim Township Middle School teacher Jason Lyons. Up to that point, Horn had competed in gymnastics for about a decade.
“At first, (pole vaulting) was a little scary,” she said. “I was not the best at running or anything. ... I just kept working.”
Horn had to learn to apply a similar work ethic in the classroom.
“I was lazy,” she said.
With a grade-point average of a little more than 2.0 through her first three years of high school, Horn had to up her grades as a senior if she hoped to land a spot on a college roster.
“I had to take the ACT three times or else I couldn’t make it to college,” she said.
Asked what advice she’d give to the freshman version of herself, Horn said. “I would say grades are super-important.”
While in high school, Horn became a three-time state champion and two-time All-American in pole vault. She likely would’ve added to those accolades had the COVID-19 pandemic not wiped out her senior season in 2020.
Horn kept fine-tuning her craft through summer 2020 at VaultWorX in Cumberland County. She then trained on the High Point campus through the fall and winter. In her first collegiate indoor competition this January, she placed second among pole vaulters from more than a half-dozen schools.
“It wasn’t too nerve-wracking,” Horn recalled. “I don’t get too nervous for pole vaulting. It’s a different uniform. You’re representing High Point now and not your high school. ... It feels a little different in that the bar is starting higher, you’re moving through heights way faster.”
Horn later finished third at the 2021 NCAA Indoor Championships with a school-record mark of 4.41 meters (14 feet, 5½ inches). The performance earned her All-America honors.
“It gave me a lot of confidence just knowing I am up there,” Horn said. “I can be as good as other athletes out there.”
In the classroom, Horn is studying special education, a career path she realized after participating in Blue Streak Buddies, a Manheim Township program that paired students with intellectual disabilities alongside their classmates.
On the track, Horn is the first High Point student-athlete to be named a two-time All-American in the same season, among her other accolades.
But she wants more.
“I definitely want to win an NCAA championship,” she said. “I want to work up poles and more on my technique. This year we kept the same grip and worked up poles. But we didn’t change too much of my jump this year. So I’ll be working on more of my technique in the upcoming years.”