Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Kiki Litvak Ready to Vault for Villanova

Litvak Prepares to Pole Vault for Villanova
By Eliot Schickler
Westport News, July 27, 2011

Kiki Litvak doesn't allow anything to deter her.

Her unflappable nature has landed Litvak an opportunity to pole vault for Villanova University women's track team next year.

"I'm so excited, it's a dream come true for me," Litvak said. "When I was recruited by them, I couldn't believe it because they have a great program."

Before she made contact with Villanova, Litvak made her mark scoring points for Weston, serving as captain this past year. After she initially expressed interest to the Lady Wildcats, they conveyed that the feeling was mutual and enticed her to attend the Big East school.

Other colleges that Litvak considered were UMass-Amherst, the University of Michigan and Lafayette College. In the end, Villanova won out. Meeting her perspective Lady Wildcat teammates, who made her feel like family, also swayed her to choose Villanova.

"I like the size of Villanova the most," Litvak said. "Michigan and UMass are very large while Villanova has a more intimate atmosphere. Lafayette was good but I like the atmosphere of Villanova more because it's in the city."

From the moment she joined the Lady Trojans, Litvak was one of the top scorers in the pole vault and was their ace performer in it this year. Her career personal best was 11-0. She earned All-State freshman year and kept on improving.

"Hard work and obviously, a great coaching staff," said Litvak on the key to her success. "[Weston Head Coach Matt] Medve, [pole vaulting Coach Tim] Drummond and [sprinting coach and outdoor track head boys] Coach [Lloyd] Weinstein helped me a lot. They were more than coaches and I felt I could confide in them. Also, the team became like best friends."

Looking at the 5-2 Litvak, few would guess that the pole vault is her specialty. According to Drummond, she's the smallest competitor in the event at most meets. In the end, she overcomes her lack of height through her pluckiness.

"Kiki works hard to get to where she is," Drummond said. "With the pole vault being what it is, her height is a disadvantage and she has a lot to overcome."

Being a former gymnast was instrumental in Litvak's success in the pole vault. For 10 years, starting at age 4, gymnastics was her life. She competed for Arena Gymnastics in Stamford and won many medals for her stellar performance on the mat.

"I owe my success to [Arena gymnastics coaches] Laurie and Frank DeFrancesco," Litvak said. "They helped me a lot with strength and discipline and it helped me with the pole vault."

Competing for Arena became daunting for Litvak in the latter stages of her tenure there and she ended up retiring from gymnastics. Giving up the sport that was her identity back then wasn't easy.

"When it ended, I felt my whole world ended, but I wouldn't be where I am today [if I stayed in gymnastics] and I'm grateful to everyone who supported me in track," Litvak recalled. "They got me to love track and made it special for me. At the time [I left gymnastics], I was devastated, but it turned out to be the best decision for me."

Medve works as a middle school gym teacher when he doesn't coach and immediately recognized Litvak's talent in the pole vault when she was in eighth grade. He told her back then she'd be competing in it.

"I had a lot of success on the track and I love it, so I gave it a try," Litvak recalled. "I like how the pole vault is independent and it takes speed, coordination, body awareness and the combination has a lot to do with gymnastics. I miss gymnastics but it's a nice transition for me. It's my passion and I love it."

One thing Litvak relishes about the pole vault is her ability to challenge herself in it. She always strives to improve and sets goals based on previous performances.

"A lot of it is focus, hard work and determination," Litvak said. "There's no limit to how far I can go, which I find exciting. You have to be in the right place and you have to be confident and aggressive. You have to be committed to the jump because if you're tentative, it will go wrong."

Sometimes, a jump goes wrong in the pole vault and Litvak is no exception. Her ability to shake it off allows her to rebound from these vaults.

"If it's not a clean jump, you forget about it and start over," Litvak said. "Everything is a new beginning for me and I forget what happened before."

In addition to track, Litvak played field hockey for the Lady Trojans in the fall. She was Second Team All-SWC sophomore year but her ankle injury cut short her senior season.

Nevertheless, her left ankle was fully recovered in time for track. Weston was able to maintain its dominance in the pole vault with Litvak leading the charge.

Being a captain was a natural fit for Litvak, who mostly led by example through her work ethic. She also guided her teammates verbally.

"It's a very fulfilling experience I loved and it's something I'll always carry with me," Litvak said.

Academically, she took AP and honors courses. Spanish is her favorite subject.

"I tried to stay focused on my main goals," Litvak said. "I didn't go to parties all the time and I did homework on the weekends."

At Villanova, Litvak knows she'll have to raise her performance a few notches. Her goal for now is to leap 12-0.

"It will take a lot of hard work but I'm willing to put in the time and effort," Litvak said.

Drummond said, "I'm looking forward to see Kiki in college. Of all the athletes I've coached, she has the best work ethic."

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