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Shauni Harding and Kody Cassidy both list "cliff diving" among their favorite hobbies.

The R.A. Long High School seniors find that it creates the adrenaline rush they are looking for, one that typically pushes them into rarefied thrill-seeking territory.

One problem. The Longview School District, at last check, does not offer cliff diving as a sport.

So Harding and Cassidy are pole vaulters — fast, strong, fearless, highflying pole vaulters who love looking down on the competition.

Cassidy owns the state's best vault in boys' Class 2A this season at 15 feet, his personal best, which he cleared twice (at Ridgefield and at Longview Memorial Stadium). Brendan Casey of Washougal is No. 2 in the state, a full six inches behind Cassidy, followed by Brett Mattson of Blaine and Joseph Aubert of West Valley-Spokane at 14-1.

Tied for fifth at 14-0 are Brian Jackson and Andrew Galloway of the Lumberjacks.

Throw in Harding's success on the girls' side, where she ranks No. 2 in the state at 11-4, and R.A. Long is arguably one of the best pole vaulting schools in Washington.

Why? Coaching is one reason.

RAL head coach Butch Allinger has been blessed with a vaulting guru on his staff named Bill Baker, who was a gymnastics and pole vaulting standout at Preble High in Green Bay, Wis., and later at Wheaton College in Illinois.

Baker was a volunteer coach at Monticello Middle School in the early 2000s when Mark Morris High School put out a request within the district for a pole vault coach. Baker agreed to join the Monarchs, and went on to coach the likes of Bo Fisher and Loren Duvall, who owns the stadium record at Longview Memorial (15-6).

When Baker's son, Britton, became a freshman at R.A. Long two years ago, Baker decided to join Allinger's staff.

"I remember the first few practices when I came over to R.A. Long. I didn't have any vaulters. I said, ‘Hey, Butch, give me somebody to coach.' The Rotary Relays were coming up, and we needed two boys and two girls to field a team," Baker explained. "Shauni was one of the girls and Kody was one of the boys. They didn't know what they were doing right away, but I could tell they had potential."

As sophomores, Cassidy and Harding made huge improvements every time they grabbed the pole. He started clearing 8-6, then 9-0, then 9-6. Twelve feet came and went. He was on his way up — way up.

Last year, Cassidy cleared 14-9 and took second in the 2A state meet with a vault of 14-6.

Baker says it is Cassidy's wrestling background that makes him such an aggressive pole vaulter.

"Kody is probably the fastest guy on the team, plus he has incredible core strength from wrestling," Baker said. "I have coached a lot of good vaulters, but Kody comes off the top of the pole better than any high school kid I've had.

"Wrestling makes you aggressive and not have much fear," he added.

"That's pretty much Kody."

Cassidy wrestled for the Jacks as a junior and turned his attention to vaulting in the spring when he finished second in the state. But he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee last summer and limped into football practice in the fall.

The knee held up until October when he tore cartilage in it. He underwent surgery, turned out for wrestling and was stateranked at 152 pounds at one point. But he faced an uncertain pole vaulting future.

"They said I might be able to do some light vaulting, maybe in the middle of the season," said Cassidy, whose superior muscle memory has also been key in his development as a vaulter. "But I came back a little early and gradually got my speed back, and things have gone really well ever since."

It has taken Cassidy a while to understand that when coaches and competitors speak about the state's elite pole vaulters, his name is in the discussion.

"I've always seen the kids who go 14-9 or 15 feet and think to myself, ‘Wow, they're better than me. I wish I could get to that level.' Now I'm at that level," he said. "I want to stay there and get better."

Clearing 15 feet twice on a surgically repaired knee would be enough of an adrenaline rush for most high school seniors.

Cassidy needs more.

"I love to pole vault. I love flying in the air and coming off the top. It's kind of intense like wrestling, where you just can't be fearful. You have to attack it," said Cassidy, who plans to vault at Washington State University. "I also love to cliff dive into the water. We have a place out in Kalama where we do it. I love that feeling of free falling."

Harding enjoys catching air time at the cliffs with her friend and teammate for many of the same reasons.

"Flying ... I just like flying," she said. "They call me and Kody the dynamic duo. We're always helping each other."

Harding made a rapid climb to the top of the 2A vaulting ranks. As a sophomore, she started clearing 6 feet in March and ended up winning district and qualifying for state with the 2A's best vault of the season at 11-3.

But she sprained her ankle at state and did not place. Last year, she cleared 11 feet and ended up taking third at state with a vault of 10-9.

"I remember being a sophomore and just going higher and higher. It was so much fun," said Harding, who plans to attend a community college with a track program before transferring to a four-year school.

"Last year I just kept wanting to break the school record (11-7). This year I've gotten close (11-4), but I'd still like to do it."

Harding weighs 138 pounds, but uses a pole that is designed for vaulters 30 pounds heavier.

"I have never lifted (weights). I just have a good coach and some natural ability," she said with a smile.

Baker believes it's more than that.

"Shauni has excellent speed and she's a very powerful young lady," he said. "She's extremely competitive and doesn't like to lose. And she's a great meet kid. Some kids PR in practice, but she and Kody both seem to get their juices flowing in the meets."

Harding cleared 11-4 at the Stayton (Ore.) Twilight Meet earlier this month, narrowly missing 11-7.

She and Cassidy will go hunting for district titles next weekend, followed by the state meet May 27-29 at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma.

"I hope he wins it, and I know he wants me to win it," Harding said. "Kody is strong and fast. A lot of vaulters are tall, too, but he's not that tall. I'm not very tall, either. I guess we just love to vault."

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