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Friday, May 20, 2011

Vaulting To the Top

Athletic Director Kevin Buiman (left) women's track coach
Jen Blue and assistant coach Matt Kolb pose with Lauren Stelten
following her indoor title this past winter.
Some schools are synonymous with producing a certain athlete.  The University of Miami is known as “Running Back U” while Penn State has been called “Linebacker U”. 
In the track world, one can think of Adams State or Western State as the “Birthplace of Distance Runners” at the NCAA Division II level and believe it or not, MSU has quietly become “Pole Vaulters U”.
The Mavericks will look to continue their reign in pole vaulting dominance next weekend as senior pole vaulter Lauren Stelten heads to Turlock, Calif., to participate in the NCAA Division II Outdoor Championships hosted by Cal State Stanislaus.
A victory for Stelten would mark the school’s eighth national title in the pole vault – indoor or outdoor – since 2004. A victory would also break a tie between Minnesota State and Abilene Christian for the most titles in the pole vault since the event was added to the NCAA DII circuit in 1999. 
The meet for Stelten is also the opportunity to capture an outdoor title that has been just within her reach the last couple of years. 
Stelten – who won this year’s indoor crown – is looking for a  clean sweep as she looks to become the first Maverick to sweep the vault since Katelin Rains did so in 2009.
“I have been a little bit injured this outdoor season,” said Stelten, a native of Colgone, Minn.  “I haven’t been able to get as high as I have wanted to.  I can’t worry about that next weekend though, I just need to go out and do my best. If I win, great.”
But MSU’s dominance in the pole vault doesn’t begin with Stelten, she is simply just a chapter in  a story.
In fact, the first pole vault champion at Minnesota State wasn’t a female, but a member of the men’s track and field team in Charles Zheng who went 16’ 8 ¾” at the national championships.  Zheng’s assistant pole vault coach was a former Maverick, Matt Kolb, who was just cutting his teeth as a track coach.
Fast-forward the clock to 2004.  MSU junior Amanda Frame becomes MSU’s first female to win a national championship as she cleared 13’ 0 ¾” setting a meet and school record en route to the victory and much like Zheng, 12 years earlier, Frame was coached by Kolb. 

Frame laid the framework for the future at MSU as she would repeat as the indoor champion in 2005 with a height of 13’ 1 ½”.
Abilene Christian’s Angie Aguilar would win the title in 2006 only to be dethroned by Rains, then a sophomore who would win titles in 2007 (14’”), 2008 (14’ 1 ¼”) and 2009 (13’9 ¼”).  Rains is the only vaulter in the history of the Division II meet to surpass the 14-foot mark.
Truman State’s Katrina Biermann would claim the title last year only to hand the crown back over to a Maverick – this time Stelten – this past winter when she climbed 13’ 6 ½” en route to the title. 
The success isn’t limited to the indoor ranks however as Rains also won the outdoor title – MSU’s only outdoor title in 2009 with a vault of 13’7” – a height which still sits as the best at the national meet. 
Think about that information for a moment.  Six indoor titles in the last eight years.  Since the NCAA has added the pole vault to the women’s championships in 2009 MSU has six indoor national champions.  Fellow perennial power, Abilene Christian has three.
“Abilene Christian and Grand Valley State are always up there,” said MSU head coach Jen Blue in regards to the competition at the national level. “They may have more qualifiers but we have more national titles on the indoor level.”
When talking to both Blue and Stelten they say that the success starts at the same point – Kolb, a former MSU vaulter who was a seven-time North Central Conference champion and a three-time All-American for the Mavericks.
“Matt Kolb is by far the reason we have had success,” said Blue, who is in her 11th year coaching the Mavericks.  “Recruiting and getting talented kids is important but you have to get the kids that fit in with your program.  Matt fine-tunes their skills and can challenge them to push themselves to the next level.”
Stelten echoes Blue’s sentiments.  “What some people don’t know or realize is that he (Kolb) is also the head coach at Mankato West,” said Stelten. “He is such a good coach and he juggles a lot for us.  He does a great job at making sure we are prepared and ready to go.”

Being able to coach themselves has proven key for the Mavericks as Kolb can’t make every meet due to his high school coaching and teaching responsibilities.
“A lot of times it's hard to believe that we can vault without him there,” said Stelten. “He trains us so we can coach ourselves."
Kolb, however, was quick to deflect the praise.
"It starts with the Jen Blue and Mark Shuck (MSU's men's track and field coach)," said Kolb. They have committed to make this event a signature event of MSU's and are bringing in talented athletes.
Though Stelten is a senior the vaulting cupboard isn’t bare at MSU.  Freshmen Aubrie Bowers and Leanna Rose each narrowly missed qualifying for this year’s outdoor championships.
“They (Aubrie and Leanna) have really come around and have kept progressing,” said Blue.  “Next year we should be ready to go in the vault again.  Bryann Sudman – a freshman who redshirted this year due to back problems – is ready and she was a state champion for Eden Prairie as a senior.  We have also signed Mankato East’s Alex Miller who is an all-state performer.”
Stelten has done what Frame and Rains have down before her – laid the groundwork for the underclassman on what it takes to be a champion at Minnesota State.
“I am a lead by example type of captain,” said Stelten.  “When I vault, I tell the underclassmen to watch me and see what they can do.  I had someone to look up to and by me showing them, it is my way to motivate them.”
One can only assume the motivation of a pair of fourth-place finishes (2008 and 2009) along with a second-place finish (2010) coupled with the opportunity to join Rains as MSU’s only outdoor pole vaulting champions is all that Stelten needs next weekend.

"I think she has a good chance," said Kolb.  "I believe that she is the vaulter to beat.  She has the mental toughness and experience that will be in her favor."

NCAA DII Indoor/Outdoor Pole Vault Individual Titles Since 1999
Minnesota State
Abilene Christian
Cal State Stanislaus
Cal State Chico
MSU Moorhead
UC Davis
South Dakota State
South Dakota
Truman State
Northwest Missouri State

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