Morgann Leleux was runner-up in the pole vault at the Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships in Nampa, Idaho, and she loved it. A freshman from New Iberia, La., Leleux dominated her sport in high school and set national records along the way.
It was too easy.
Now at Georgia, she is challenged often, mostly by Tina Sutej from Arkansas. Sutej is the national collegiate record holder in the event. She’s also the person who beat Leleux for the NCAA indoor title — 14-7 1/4 feet to her career-best 14-5 1/4 feet — and beat her to win the Southeastern Conference indoor title.
One would think having such a formidable obstacle in the way would be disheartening for a freshman. For Leleux it has been just the opposite.
“I loved it,” Leleux said. “I loved having competition again because in high school, the girls who I am jumping against when I was a freshman and beating me, had moved on to college and I am jumping against them again. Not to be rude or anything, but I’m beating them now and they are pushing me. And going against Tina really helps me jump higher.
“Without the competition you have no motivation, you have no way of jumping higher. I mean you have records, but when someone’s there pushing you, you tend to break those records faster.”
After owning the record book in high school, she now is the second-best pole vaulter in Georgia history behind Thorey Elisdottir. Her personal best was 14-3 to set the national high school pole vault record. What’s more, she did it while still suffering the effects of mononucleosis. Ironically, she went into the SEC Indoor championships coming off of strep throat, but that did not stop her from setting a pretty high bar for the competition.
“She said to me, ‘I’d like to give Tina some push, and I’d really like to go out and beat her,’ ” Georgia’s pole vault coach Petros Kyprianou said. “I asked her if she was sure this is what you want to say. She said yes showed up and did that. She didn’t look very good, but she still jumped 14-1. She is a special person.”
Leleux was recruited heavily by LSU, Arkansas and other traditional powers, but Georgia won out because of what they put in her hand — a full scholarship and the brand of pole she used in high school. But her shunning the other schools for Georgia may have cost her freshman of the year honors.
“I was really disappointed that she didn’t get it,” Kyprianou said. “Based on her performance and everything it didn’t make sense. You couldn’t tell me she wasn’t freshman of the year. But I guess when you lose a recruit of that caliber … She was just a great athlete coming out of high school”
In addition to being an outstanding vaulter, she also won five state championships in gymnastics. Her father, Shane, a collegiate vaulter, put her in gymnastics when she was three years old. He reasoned one of the best ways for her to become a great vaulter was through gymnastics. Seeing her gift for the sport, her dad opened up a gymnastics facility. When she was in the sixth grade, he put in a pole vault pit for Leleux.
“I thought I was going to the Olympics in gymnastics,” Leleux said. “Then my coach left. So I decided not to go elite level, but just stay college level in gymnastics to keep up for my pole vaulting. Pole vaulting became my No. 1 thing. Then I started getting really good at pole vaulting and started to think this could be good for Olympics as well.
“This is the first year I’ve ever focused only on pole vaulting and nothing else. I think I could have been one of the first high school 15-foot jumpers, but I don’t regret it because I think the reason I am doing so well is from the gymnastics. I’m strong. I’m built like a brick from my gymnastics background. My upper body is incredible. My problem is I need to get faster and more consistent with the run, fix my pole carry so I can get on bigger poles. I have to do that if I am going to compete with Tina.”
As it is, it a healthy respectful competition, one that Leleux so desperately has needed.
“It’s not like we are BFF or anything, but she was talking to me at nationals,” Leleux said. “She’s really sweet when you get her to talk to you. You have to respect her for what she’s done.
“When I am going against her, I am learning from the best. I’m learning how to get better. I am learning I’m going to have to get faster and train harder. It’s really preparing me for the Olympic Trials. I want to go there and jump a 15. That’s the goal.”
This means also adjusting how she will compete during the outdoor season. She will skip Georgia’s first three meets initially. She plans to participate in the major ones on the schedule, but it is an adjusted one to prepare her for the Trials.
“If I jump 14-10 to 15-1, think I have a chance,” Leleux said. “Maybe two Americans have jumped over 15 besides [2008 Olympic silver medalist] Jenn Suhr. She has a 16-0 [indoor, 16-1 3/4 outdoor] something like that. She’s jumping some crazy stuff. Right now I am up there.”
She always has been in the eyes of her coach. Her demeanor and drive continue to make an impression.
“I’m glad we have her at Georgia,” Kyprianou said. “She’s very special. She’s a very humble girl, and that’s really what captured my attention. I’ve recruited people from all over the world and the first impression you get is me, myself and I. They really like to promote themselves.
“Morgan, she says nothing. She says she hasn’t done much yet. She thinks she’s not good enough. That is crazy, but that is what keeps her going. Her personality is marvelous. I think that’s where the good things start. And obviously her parents did a great job raising her because she’s not spoiled, she’s a hardworking intelligent girl that wants to go on and take over the world. That’s what makes a true champion, I think.”