Tessa Mudd is the only member of the track and field program at one of the smallest schools in the Lowcountry.
But Mudd, a senior at Charleston Collegiate School on Johns Island, is doing big things in her chosen sport at the state and national levels.
Mudd has become the top female pole vaulter in South Carolina prep history, not to mention one of the best in America.
In the Adidas National Indoor Pole Vault Championships held last weekend in Virginia Beach, Va., Mudd claimed a gold medal with a vault of 14 feet, 1 inch, firmly establishing herself as one of the top high school pole vaulters in the country. She also became the first high school female vaulter from South Carolina to clear the 14-foot mark.
“It was something I knew was attainable but I didn’t know it would be at nationals,” said Mudd, who has won two gold medals at the S.C. Independent School Association (SCISA) state championships.
“It’s really exciting to get over 14 feet. It just shows me that my training is paying off and it motivates me to work even harder to go higher. I know I can go higher.”
Her winning vault is the fourth best in the U.S. this year (the top vault is 14-9) and Mudd will likely go even higher during the outdoor season this spring. She already has cleared 13-7 in two local outdoor meets this spring.
Mudd has taken an unlikely path to being one of the best in America. The Illinois transplant spent her early years as an elite gymnast. She was so good, in fact, that she had dreams of someday competing in the Olympics. As an eighth-grader, she moved into power tumbling, which involves a series of acrobatic skills, such as jumps, flips and mid-air twists.
Upon moving to South Carolina, Mudd found there was not much of a market for tumbling but she wanted to use her athleticism in some way. Enter Tom Reagan, who coaches high school athletes with the Mount Pleasant Track Club.
Mudd met Reagan during her freshman year of high school. She began participating in track as a sprinter and jumper, but Reagan had other ideas for his prodigy.
“The first time I saw her, I knew she was made for vaulting,” said Reagan, a former coach at Wando High School. “I wasn’t sure what type of focus she would have but she proved quickly that focus and hard work would not be an issue. She was fearless from the moment we put a pole in her hands.
“She has speed, which is important. Being a tumbler, she also had spacial awareness in the air. She knew how to turn the body in air and things like that. Those things are important in pole vaulting.
"It was just a matter of putting a pole in her hand and teaching her the basics. She is a natural. It came very easy for her. And she works so hard. She is self-motivated to be the best.”
Mudd said Reagan’s guidance and tutelage has been a godsend.
“An incredible coach and a phenomenal man,” Mudd said. “He saw my potential and he motivated me to run with it. I know I would not have these opportunities without coach Reagan.”
Mudd is easily the best pole vaulter in SCISA and should win a third gold medal at the state meet in May. But winning is not enough. The SCISA boys' state record is 14 feet. Though she will compete in the girls' meet, her goal is to win and best the boys' state record in the process.
“I would love to clear 14 feet in the state meet, just to prove to myself that I am the best, not as a girl, but the best ever,” she said.
Reagan is certain she will.
“I would predict she will jump 14-6 or higher by May. She’s an elite athlete," he said. "And she’s an even better person. The sky is the limit for Tessa.”
Cane Bay coach Greg Hall has watched Mudd’s progress over the years. Hall often officiates at invitational meets in the area and also hosts a big event in April at Cane Bay.
“She is really impressive to watch,” Hall said. “As a coach, it is so much fun to see her excel. We got a new vault pit this spring at Cane Bay. I’ve said she will end up setting our track record and it probably will never be broken. I look forward to seeing her break in that new pit.”
Mudd will enroll at Princeton University in the fall and looks forward to continuing her pursuit of greatness in pole vaulting. Princeton is the current home to Olympian and NCAA champion Sondre Guttormsen and his brother Simen. The Norwegian vaulters are among the best in the world.
“Princeton offers me an excellent opportunity to train and learn from some of the best pole vaulters in the country,” Mudd said. “It’s a great school and I know it will help me grow as a person and an athlete.”