Pole vaulters embrace off season


infographic by Joanne Lee

Shannon Freese

infographic by Joanne Lee
For the typical human, getting 10 feet off the ground with his or her own power may be difficult, but for pole vaulters, it’s just another training day.
For them, after school is a chance to fly high. Even though the season doesn’t start until late February, the pole vaulters are already preparing themselves with preseason conditioning and training.
Unlike last year, however, they don’t always head down to “the pit,” the place where the pole vaulting equipment is assembled. These days the pole vaulters are putting away their poles and grabbing carabineers for rock climbing, one activity within the various styles of training.
“Fridays are rock climbing. It’s just kind of a nice break from everything,” junior Krista Blomenkamp said. “Pole vault is a full-body workout. You have to be pretty overall strong to pole vault. And the rock climbing reinforces that. It takes all body parts to get up the wall as it does to get over the pole vault.”
Preseason included practicing in a swimming pool during the summer. Pole vault coach Patrick Sasser said the training helps the coaches break down specific parts of the form.
“There’s lots of drills you can do into the pool that make it a good [style of training.] You can go in slow motion and really break down people’s form,” Sasser said. “So we pole vault into pools and in pools.”
Along with other new types of preseason training, rock climbing has come about under the direction of a new coach, Anthony Alphin. He and Sasser will train the team together as the season begins.
“This will be [Alphin’s] first year coaching, so we haven’t actually done any coaching necessarily together this year,” Sasser said. “He’s done lots of preseason stuff with the kids already. It’s been a really dedicated group that he works with.”
Blomenkamp said the two will make a perfect pair  for coaching. Although she hasn’t seen them in action yet she is excited for what the pole vaulting team has in store.
Alphin “is a really funny guy. I haven’t been around him much lately, but he’s definitely very lighthearted and a lot of fun, and he actually feels more like a friend and a mentor than a coach,” Blomenkamp said. “He keeps us focused in a way that feels like he’s treating us as people and not just as athletes.”
The upperclassmen witnessed the transformation with the program, branching out from previous years. In senior Shannon Amiot’s freshman year as a pole vaulter, the program was much smaller than it is now. Five pole vaulters, including Amiot, made up the team. During that time, Sasser coached not only pole vaulting but also long and triple jumps.
“The number [of pole vaulters] continued to grow as my sophomore and junior year passed,” Amiot said. “And this year, we expect about 25. Things have been changing obviously as our numbers grew. [There were] 18 last year, and we didn’t know how to handle it. Kansas City is used to 45 vaulters and has three pits and hundreds of poles because all of their Olympic vaulters donate to their high schools and indoor clinics.”
Junior Matt Bush, who cleared a personal best of 13 feet last year, is also excited for the addition to the coaching staff. Bush said the pole vaulters have been lifting together earlier in the year, and he appreciates the options the new coach brings to the team.
Alphin “is a pole vaulting veteran, and a great coach,” Bush said. “He is really getting involved with the vaulters by holding training sessions and taking us to indoor vaulting facilities in the winter.”
Alvin said he will be dedicated to the team. Even though it is his first year coaching here, it is not his first experience with pole vaulting. Alphin’s pole vaulting career goes  all the way back to his high school days.
“I am blessed to be able to help out with the track team because track is something that I love,” Alphin said. “Being able to do things in life that you truly love is an honor, and I am happy to be a part of it.”
Both the new and the old coaches came to the same conclusion about the level of difficulty pole vaulting requires. Alphin said the unnatural aspect of the sport only draws him into it further. Sasser agrees it demands a different type of athlete.
“It’s challenging,” Sasser said. “You have to be a boss.”
By Shannon Freese