On Feb. 25, for the fourth time in the last five years, Slippery Rock University won both the men and women’s indoor conference pole vault titles.
Since 2009, The Rock has had at least one Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) pole vault champion every year. That kind of sustained success is hard to come by in collegiate athletics. For every Division I football dynasty school, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of college teams that recruit a good athlete and are good for a few years, then struggle in four years once that athlete graduates. The constant roster turnover is one of the hardest parts of college athletics.
For a small school like Slippery Rock, this problem is magnified. SRU does not have the resources to bring in the best athletes from across the country. Slippery Rock basically has to rely on whatever local talent is in the area. So how is it possible that The Rock has completely dominated the PSAC in pole vaulting for the better part of the last decade?
“When we started to take over this program, we set down very strict guidelines of what we were going to try to accomplish with kids in a timeline and how we were going to go about that in a pedagogy style of teaching, and we just worked with that going forward,” SRU pole vault coach Bill Jordan said. “We attribute a lot of the success to having one philosophy and working that philosophy.”
Jordan became the pole vault coach at Slippery Rock in 2006 after graduating from The Rock himself in 2005.
Since taking over, Jordan has coached several PSAC pole vault champions and one national champion in Cameron Daugherty in 2012.
In his time as a student-athlete at The Rock, Daugherty was a three-time PSAC pole vault champion and a three-time All-American. Now a coach at SRU, Daugherty said that the program has not really changed that much since he first got here.
“The technical aspects are still relatively the same. I think the training has changed a little bit, definitely for the better,” Daugherty said. “This program has been founded on vault knowledge–really, really good vault knowledge–for a long time. We’ve had really great coaches; that’s where I’ve pretty much learned everything from, so we’re just continuing that and it’s working out.”
This year Daugherty, the former national champion, has the opportunity to coach two vaulters on the women’s team who each have a shot to win a national championship themselves.
Junior Courtney McQuaide and freshman Madeline Marshall both hit the national qualifying mark at the PSAC indoor championships and were invited to the National Championships in Birmingham, Ala. on March 10-11.
McQuaide was the next in a long line of SRU pole vault champions, winning the indoor title with a 3.77-meter clearance, with Marshall coming in second with the same mark.
McQuaide, who sat out all last year with an injury, said it was nice to finally be able to compete again.
“It was a really great feeling, coming back from my injury last year. Taking the whole year off, I just had a really hard time during preseason getting back up to full speed and getting back up to my full vault,” McQuaide said. “It was very frustrating (not competing). I was here pretty much every day at practice watching everyone else do what I couldn’t do. I was trying to be very supportive through it all because being supportive of other people made me feel better.”
McQuaide and Marshall will leave for nationals ranked 16 and 17 out of 17 competitors, but McQuaide is not letting the low ranking affect her determination.
“I expect to do well. I don’t really expect to place as an All-American, but it just really depends on how the other girls do,” McQuaide said. “I expect to come home doing a lot better than seeded 16 or 17.”
Daugherty said that the only advice he could give them for nationals was to have fun and let loose.
McQuaide and Marshall were not the only Rock vaulters on the women’s team who had impressive performances at the PSAC Indoor Championships. SRU took all three top spots and placed four in the top seven.
Behind McQuaide and Marshall, junior Maria Darling finished in third with a 3.67 clearance and senior Megan Martisciano finished in seventh with a 3.57 clearance.
On the men’s side, SRU also won the title and placed three in the top five. Junior Jordan Pacheco took home the title with a 4.91 clearance while junior Andrew Koksal and senior Mike Horrigan finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
Pacheco, like McQuaide, did not compete at all last season due to injury.
“(Winning the indoor championship) was pretty amazing actually. Especially because not competing last year was annoying and the last time I won the competition was my freshman year,” Pacheco said. “I think we just care about (pole vault) a lot. It’s an event that we recognize as fun and that’s challenging. I think a lot of schools tend to neglect pole vault because it’s a hard event to coach as well to do.”
Jordan said that Pacheco and McQuaide’s injuries last year were bad luck, and that he is excited to see them rise to their full potential.
So as SRU’s track and field teams begin their transition into the outdoor season, there is yet another strong crop of vaulters that look to carry on Slippery Rock’s tradition as ‘Pole Vault U.’