How The Moll Twins Are Forging A Historic Path Forward

* Hana Moll (left) and Amanda Moll at the National Pole Vault Summit in January

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport

    "I think they are outliers. I think there's probably never been anybody with the confluence of skills and support systems and mental maturity and self understanding and athletic IQ. There are so many things that are required to be really great. And they seem to have all of them, just in some blessed golden twins kind of a thing." 

    By Cory Mull - MileSplit 

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    Two of the world's best pole vaulters are just 18 years old and identical twins. They hail from Olympia, Washington, and attend high school and they still live with their parents.

    One is a World U20 champion. The other became the first high school athlete in history to eclipse 15-foot in the pole vault and is a multiple-time national record-holder. Both recorded results this indoor season that were among the top 25 performances in the world. 

    Both are approaching the kind of stratospheres that have never been achieved before in high school, and may never again. Amanda Moll and Hana Moll are the best to ever do it, the Gen Z track and field stars of tomorrow and, as oddly as this sounds, completely normal teenagers. 

    On Saturday in Austin, Texas, they'll look to become the first high school athletes to clear 4.57 meters in the same meet, which is to say they're both looking to clear 15 feet in the pole vault in the elite high school division of the Texas Relays. Amanda is the only prep in history to have cleared the height. 

    "I think they are outliers," said Tim Reilly, the duo's esteemed coach at Northwest Pole Vault club and a former 30-year teaching veteran from Seattle, Washington. "I think there's probably never been anybody with the confluence of skills and support systems and mental maturity and self understanding and athletic IQ. There are so many things that are required to be really great. And they seem to have all of them, just in some blessed golden twins kind of a thing." 

    The central question, then, is just how it all came to be, and possibly whether this is a revolution of sorts in high school pole vaulting, or whether anyone will ever challenge their legacy again. The first American woman to ever clear the 15 foot threshold in the pole vault came in 1999, when Stacy Dragila, a former heptathlete, won the first World Outdoor Championships gold medal with a mark of 15 feet, 1 inch.

    The current world record stands at 5.06 meters, or 16 feet, 7 inches, while American Jenn Suhr holds the American record at 5.03 meters, or 16 feet, 6 inches. She is among just a few athletes like Sandi Morris and Katie Moon, the reigning Olympic champion, to have ever achieved that next level of of heights in a U.S.A. singlet. 

    Prodigiously talented and perhaps on the road to Olympic Games and World Championship qualifying, the twins are certainly carving a path of their own, reaching heights at this age that could influence the next set of leaps in the future. 

    In January, Amanda Moll, a senior at Capital High School, cleared 15 feet, 1.5 inches at the National Pole Vault Summit in Reno, Nevada. Hana, also a senior, isn't far behind in 14 feet, 10.75 inches. Their coach, Tim Reilly, thinks they could possibly reach 15 feet, 5.5 inches, or 4.71 meters -- the current World U20 record, for short -- by the end of the summer. 

    So what's next? First, let's find out how it all began.

    Starting Heights

    From The Beginning

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    How did two athletes from the same family tree become historically good? 

    It starts with support. Their mother, Paula, a dietician, and their father, Eric, the CEO of a healthcare company in Washington, have provided infrastructure and access to training. Paula, a former gymnast, once dreamed of pole vaulting in high school herself, though she was unable to do so due to her gender, she told the Olympian in July -- only males could compete back then, she said.  

    So opportunity came decades later for her daughters. After cultivating the repetition and routine of gymnasts and rock climbers as young girls, they first stepped into a pole vault gym when they were in the seventh grade, at the behest of a coach by the name of Mike Strong, who coached at the high school they would soon attend. There they met Reilly, a long-time high school teacher from Eastlake Catholic and Seattle Prep who just years earlier was gifted his own bit of serendipity. 

    A parent of an athlete he coached owned a warehouse near the Seattle light rail and asked asked Reilly if he wanted to build a pole vault center in the corner of the building. Reilly, a recent retiree who was contemplating building an online tutoring business, said, "What the heck, this will be fun."

    While his summers were often spent holding pole vault camps, his full-time priority shifted. A few years later, the Molls, flanked by their mother Paula, walked inside the gym. 

    "They had so much dang fun that day," Reilly said. "They really took to it, like when a springer spaniel first saw water." 

    The building shared a space with a workout facility, so the pole vaulters were sidled by athletes of all sizes and shapes, of weight room equipment and interval bands. Music bounced off the walls. The pole vault corner was their oasis. There were pits and high bars and bungees and runways, hands caked with chalk, flexed poles, shouts of glee over a passed clearance. 

    The young girls took notice and soon jumped into action. "I really liked bending the poles," Amanda said. A young girl by the name of Chloe Cunliffe, who would pass the national high school record  in 2019 at a height of 14-9, would often train there, showing the girls what was possible. Handfuls of athletes were skying toward the ceiling, reaching heights of 13 feet. 

    "I think that feeling of mystery, of what that felt like really intrigued me," Hana said of that memory. "I had a lot of fun. Tim was this really enthusiastic coach." 

    Those early years were important, if only because big ideas formed into the twin's heads. Nothing was deemed impossible, whether it was a drill, a training exercise or a height attempt. If athletes are programmed from an early age the boundless possibilities of sport, then it's likely true that ceilings will be raised. 

    By the late 2010s, the Northwest Pole Vault Club was becoming nationally recognized and had seen talent flow through the gym that ultimately gained an array of accomplishments, from state championships to All-American honors and Junior National championships. Athletes were signing with major NCAA Division I universities. 

    Questions soon started coming Reilly's way. Just what's your secret?

    Reilly had seen countless girls athletes surpass 12 feet, and then some skied toward 13, and the elite few gained access to 14. As a freshman, Amanda had cleared 14-3.5. Hana followed at that height as a sophomore. Both had always been competitive with one another, with Hana beating Amanda at a Junior Olympics in the eighth grade. 

    Reilly never held on to that intellectual property. He credited coaches before him, and then he took his pole vaulters to their gyms to train. More than anything, he said that coaching was less about the physical adjustments one would make during times of competition or training, but the mental progress afforded to an athlete during that time of stress. 

    "I understand the nuances of mental things beneath physical things," he said. 

    His philosophy was centered around the athlete and their responses to situations. Fear? Doubt? Let's conquer that. During training, he never separated elite pole vaulters from the beginners. 

    "I don't just say ...'Blah blah blah, you have to swing this way.'' he said. "Pause. Put your pole over here. Feel it over here. Because I understand we're training nervous systems by repetition. And often, retraining badly programmed habits can't be talked away. You have to repeat."

    Just a few years later, as the Molls began attending the gym twice a week and gave up other sports, they began to dive centrally into the pole vault.

    Perhaps all those internal and external dynamics at the gym, with Reilly behind the wheel, began to sink in. 

    "I just think unreasonably, audacious expectations are in the drinking water at our place," he said. "These kids that start and zoom up to 12 feet. I've had three go up to 13 in their first 12 months. That's ridiculous. I'm convinced, because it's been done before and they're seeing it be done right before their eyes." 

    Naturally, results and records followed. 

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    Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport

    Two Peas In A Pod

    A Sisterly Bond

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    The first time Amanda and Hana Moll appear on the Zoom, they are flanked by one another in their room, Hana on the right, Amanda on the left. A question is posed to the pair from the start. 

    How long have you known Coach Reilly? 

    What followed can only be considered a hilarious exchange between two twin sisters who know their every thought. 

    "We started the summer after seventh grade," Amanda said. "So five and a half years." 

    "Yeah," Hana added. 

    "Wait," Amanda said, retreating. 

    "A little bit less than five?" Hana offered. "No. Five. I'd say."

    "No, four and a little bit, so this summer would be five years," Amanda countered, inviting a confusing glare from Hana. 

    "I think?" Amanda said. 

    "Maybe," Hana said.

    "I don't know," Amanda said, bewildered, "Five?" 

    The exchange relayed an important characteristic that both hold in spades: Chemistry. As the Molls have continued to ascend up the ranks of high school pole vaulting, their daily habits and routines and personality traits haven't changed. 

    While aspirations have risen, their understanding and commitment toward one another has remained the same. And in many ways, their relationship has strengthened. 

    The daily routine of training has been their outlet. They've worked through poles, plants, take offs and inversion in the air. They've leapt over bungees, maybe thousands of times. Improving velocity, Tim says, that's been key. So has been believing in what can be done. 

    Many times during an over one hour interview, the pair would answer each other's sentences. 

    Hana found a breakthrough in her pole vaulting over the 2022 indoor season, reaching as high as 14 feet, 8 inches over her junior season, just one inch away from the high school national record. It gave her confidence and poise. 

    "I feel like clearing 14-feet plus multiple times really solidified that mental component that I can do this," said Hana, who plants with her left foot, like her sister. "I know I can. It provided motivation for me to continue going further." 

    But Amanda, who had earned multiple class records through the years, never lost faith. She cleared 14-9 at the USATF Indoor Championships in December, earning a new high school national record. Then in her first meet of the outdoor season, at the Texas Relays last March, she copied it and then some, hitting 14-9.5 to set a another high school record.

    "Every meet I want to, I told myself, 'I can clear 15,'" she said. 

    Amanda went on to clear 14 feet six out of nine meets and won the USATF U20 Championships, earning a bid to the World U20 Championships. Hana cleared 14 feet five times in eight tries, finishing second at USAs and second at states.

      "I just think unreasonably, audacious expectations are in the drinking water at our place. These kids that start and zoom up to 12 feet. I've had three go up to 13 in their first 12 months. That's ridiculous. I'm convinced, because it's been done before and they're seeing it be done right before their eyes." - Tim Reilly

      In Colombia, though, Hana broke through, making a height on a crucial third attempt. She went on to win the World U20 title with a mark of 14-3.25. Weeks earlier, at USAs, she had also made a crucial third attempt to make the team. 

      "Hana, she's on the ropes," Reilly said. "And once again, as she has done before, she pulled out this monster jump, she made it easy and won the thing. This is becoming a part of who you are. You are a gamer. You will never forget this. You can always reflect back. Colombia baby, time for the big jump." 

      The pair's junior seasons cemented the sisters as the best in high school history, only with a year left on their high school careers.

      Naturally, with extra time afforded, the next checkmark on the to-do list moved over to the impossible. 

      Could either of the girls become the first over 15 feet? 

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      Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport

      Making History

      Forging Ahead

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      Amanda didn't take long to answer that question. 

      In January, nine months after reaching the highest clearance of her career, she cleared 4.61 meters. 

      It was a nearly flawless run of attempts, with makes at 4.11m, 4.26m, a third-attempt make at 4.41 and then a clearance at 4.51, or 14-9.5. 

      At that point, with six runs on her legs, she was fresh but nearing a never-done-this-before moment. If she had been on a silo, out there alone, maybe it would have been different. 15 feet. But as fate had it, three athletes were still in the competition, including Hana, who cleared 4.51 on her last try. They all were racing toward 15 feet.

      "There was still another athlete in the competition, so they didn't say, 'Mandi, do you want to move to 15 feet?'" Tim remembers thinking. "They had to move it all the way to 4.61. Oh well, so we're going to 15-1. What the heck. It almost made it not one of those, 'Oh my gosh, it's 15 again,' moments."  

      Amanda cleared it on her first try. 

      "I was with the pros," she said. "It wasn't, 'Oh my gosh, this is crazy.' This is normal for them. That helped me. I said, 'I got this,' versus, 'Oh my gosh, it's 15 feet,' I'm freaking out.  

      Hana followed, nearly hitting the height on her last try -- her hips shot over the bar, Tim said, but she nipped it on the way down.

      Within that 24 hours, an important distinction took place. Amanda knocked down a perceived impossible wall. By the end of the month, Hana would raise her PR to 14-10.75. 

      "This is the 15-foot barrier," Tim said. "There's excitement and energy to it."

      It wasn't long ago that reaching 14 feet was the goal. In 2007,  Castilleja's (CA) Tori Anthony broke a national outdoor record, clearing 14-1. Since then, a total of 31 girls have reached the height outdoors, with eight now over 14-6 -- four have cleared that standard within the last three years, in fact. A total of 17 have gone over 14 indoors. 

      This past March, at the NCAA Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, the title-winning clearance was 14-7.25. Amanda earned the eighth-best mark in the world for the indoor season. The Olympic Games winning mark in 2022, by Moon, was 4.85 meters, or 15-11. Two Americans finished in the top two places. 

      "I think now that women can actually watch women pole vault, it just gives them that much more confidence now that 'I can do this,' said Stacy Dragila, who was interviewed by MileSplit in March. 

      "They're just two peas in a pod," she added of the Moll twins.  

      But the question of whether more high school girls will follow at the height is harder to decipher. Five years ago, Mondo Duplantis became the first high school male to ever clear 19 feet. During his senior year, a total of two high school athletes followed at 18. 

      Duplantis has since broken multiple records and continued his remarkable journey toward pole vault history. But no high school boy has reached 19 feet since.

      Similarly, the Molls could be operating at a level that may not be challenged again. Only five girls have ever cleared 14-8 or higher, and the twins are among those involved. Cunliffe, their former club teammate, is a third. In fact, the Northwest Pole Vault Club has seen five girls reach 14 feet since 2019.

      "Most times, American junior records are broken by a centimeter," Reilly said. "That's the typical thing. Mandi has stuffed it up there by 10 centimeters. Chances are, both of them will be 10 centimeters beyond anyone before and they may well be 20 centimeters. I'm not really worried about that. It's conceivable to me that they make jumps at the NCAA record when they are with me this summer."

      For what it's worth, the Molls haven't changed their mindsets. 

      As they exhibited on that Zoom call recently, they're still teenagers, two peas in a pod, answering each others sentences. 

      Neither believes that 15 feet is a guarantee again. And both will also agree that their focus isn't on reaching goal-numbers as they pursue the ends of their high school careers. 

      "I never go into a meet having a bar or a specific number in mind," Hana said. "I go into a meet and I say, 'Let's experience this,' especially if it's a big meet. I put pressure on myself. I want to perform well. But I've found that if it's dragging me down, that if I go in with low expectations, especially in practices but also in meets, I tend to do well. I've found it frees my mind to be in a flow zone and just be focused." 

      Perhaps on cue, Amanda chimed in. 

      "What Hana and I and my coaches have established, is that we're process-oriented. We're not outcome-oriented," she said. "OK, this is what I want to work on. With having cleared 15, it hasn't necessarily changed my expectations. It's changed my level of confidence for when that bar does get there. I know I can do it."

      So what's next? 

      For the Molls, the next objective is the Texas Relays, followed by a high school season at Capital, and then their collegiate careers at Washington, where they will work with Olivia Gruver, an athlete who has passed 15 feet herself. Both signed with the Huskies in October. 

      Strong has allowed the girls to focus exclusively on pole vault this season. A year earlier, they each won state titles in the long jump (Amanda) and short hurdles (Hana). 

      This year, the twins will drop the individual events. But they're keeping the 4x100. 

      "We'll do the 4x100 and 4x200," Hana said. 

      "So sprinting," Amanda added. 

      "Our 4x100 also won state last year," Hana remembered. 

      Even if you're among the World's best, you're only in high school once. 

      Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport

        "I've found it frees my mind to be in a flow zone and just be focused. I think going into the season, I don't really have an expectation to clear 15 every time. I'm just going to keep my eyes up and just not have this bar that I need to clear." - Hana Moll

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