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La Jolla High track star joins UC Berkeley team

For four years, Dana Hoolko accomplished as much as any track and field athlete in La Jolla High School’s long history.

And she expects to continue that success in the next four years as a member of the track team at UC Berkeley.

So while a sub-par performance at the CIF State Championships last week proved disappointing for her, it hardly will define Hoolko’s career on the track.

Hoolko, whose trip to Sacramento State’s Hughes Stadium on June 1 marked her third appearance at the state high school track championships in the pole vault, failed to clear the opening height of 11 feet, 3 inches in her three attempts, missing a chance to move on to the second day and compete for a state championship.

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Her best height cleared earlier in her La Jolla High School track career had been 11-9, but due to a left ankle injury that she suffered just before the start of the spring season, she struggled all year to meet her own expectations.

“I would almost have preferred to break my ankle than tear the ligaments,” said Hoolko, who sustained the injury to her deltoid ligament when an opponent unexpectedly slide-tackled her during a La Jolla girls soccer game late in the winter season. “At least that way the recovery wouldn’t have taken so long. I felt like at times this season I could compete, but it really held me back.”

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Added La Jolla coach Roger Karnopp, “That soccer injury really hurt her, and that was disappointing to me.”

Regardless of Hoolko’s injury, it can hardly dim a career that was so bright from the beginning of her freshman year on the La Jolla High School campus to the final day of her senior year.

Hoolko was a four-time Western League champion in the pole vault and won the CIF San Diego Section Division II title all four years as well, three times earning a trip to the state meet. She holds the La Jolla High School record and the Western League record for the girls pole vault at 11-9.

And she made such an impression on the track and athletic communities at La Jolla that on June 6, at the Vikings’ season-ending team banquet at La Jolla Presbyterian Church, Hoolko received a special plaque commemorating her four years of standout performances.

According to Karnopp, the plaque was presented to Hoolko for her “perseverance, adaptability, coachability and dedication in the following events: the pole vault, the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the 4x100 meter relay, the long jump and the shot put.”

“She really deserves it,” Karnopp said, “for everything she’s done while she has been here.”

Hoolko’s performance in track and field is even more impressive considering she didn’t start competing until she started high school. A soccer and volleyball player, she began competing in track with a little encouragement from her father, who had been a decathlete at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland.

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“I played those other sports, but throughout high school, track has really been my sport,” Hoolko said. “I got into it as a freshman, and it helped me get to the college I wanted to go to. That part is really cool.” Hoolko will attend Berkeley for the next four years on a partial athletic scholarship. She also received some financial assistance through the elite Cal Alumni Scholar Award, and she hopes to compete in the pole vault and the heptathlon, a grueling assignment that includes competition in the long jump, the high jump, the 200, the 100 hurdles, the 800, the shot put and the javelin.

Many of those events she tried in high school, though she never competed in them all in the same meet. She expects that it will be an adjustment that will take some time.

“Next year will be a challenge no matter what, because it’s such an elite school athletically,” Hoolko said. “I’ve become used to winning a lot in my high school meets, but next year I’ll be up against a lot better competition, and I’m going to have to get used to that. I think I’ll be able to use it to push myself harder.” Hoolko said that she plans to train independently during the summer based on the suggestions of her Cal coaches, but is also looking forward to resting her ankle and allowing it to fully heal now that she’s done with competing for a while. She will compete during an indoor season and an outdoor season at Cal, and practice for the first of the two doesn’t begin until October.

Chances are by that time, she’ll be ready to resume her progress.

“I’m definitely going to use this time to let it get better, so I can go in as fresh as possible,” she said.