PITTSTON – Soaring over the bar and climbing the ranks to be among the top high school pole vaulters in the country opened doors that Abby Norwillo once thought might be closed to her.
“I never thought that I could go Ivy League,” Norwillo said of accepting an offer to attend the University of Pennsylvania and compete on the track and field team. “It was always something that I kind of said to myself that I would apply just because, just as a student, to see what if I got in.
“When I started getting recruited by Penn and Harvard, the gravity of it set in. It’s absolutely insane.”
A Pittston Area senior, Norwillo wound up choosing Penn over Harvard after she declined a substantial scholarship offer from Bucknell University. She gave a verbal commitment to Penn this fall.
Ivy League sports teams recruit, but do not award scholarships specifically for athletics.
Norwillo will major in biology, with plans to continue her education into a medical field, possibly specializing in immunology or allergies.
Originally a gymnast as a young athlete, Norwillo followed the path of Crestwood’s Ellie Bennett, an older gymnast at the Shooting Stars Club in Wilkes-Barre, who had become a high school pole vaulter. She joined the Pittston Area junior high track team as a seventh-grader to begin pursuing the sport.
The early athletic advantages of a gymnastic background got Norwillo off to a good start. She has since delved into the more technical side of the event. She heads to the Hudson Valley Flying Circus in Warwick, N.Y. two nights each week for specialized training and goes there many weekends during the high school season.
As a junior, Norwillo finished second in Class 3A at the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Track and Field Championships, clearing 12-6 and losing out on the gold medal on a tiebreaker. She made it over 12-9 while placing ninth at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in North Carolina a month later and has since cleared 13 feet.
Each new breakthrough can takes months of work.
“It’s all about putting every little piece of it together in order,” Norwillo said. “The more you can hit your run the right way and on the right mark every single time, the less you think about it and you can think about another aspect of the jump.
“And, then slowly, you put it together, piece by piece and you only have to focus on where your bottom hand is when you take off or how long you stay inverted on the pole. Thinking about only one or two things makes it a lot easier to do those two things.”
Before joining the Quakers, Norwillo will continue her pursuit of new heights for one more season in the spring with the Lady Patriots.
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