TERRE HAUTE — There are very few sure things in life, maybe even fewer in high school sports.
But Terre Haute North having good pole vaulters is a pretty safe bet, and what’s happened so far this spring seems to indicate the trend will continue for quite awhile.
So strong are the Patriots in the event that they could shrug off the loss of a 2011 boys state finalist — Virginia Tech-bound punter A.J. Hughes has decided to concentrate on preparing for his college sport, with the blessings of coach Craig Gillaspy and his North teammates — without missing a beat.
Well, maybe one beat. Connor Curley, the standard-bearer for the North vaulters this spring, could have used his friend for one vault on Saturday.
“Last week [at Brown County’s Talon Relays] the record [for the combined heights of two vaulters] was [27-feet-6],” Curley said earlier this week. “I tried to go 15-7 to break it by an inch … with A.J. [generally at least a 15-foot vaulter] we’d have crushed the record.”
Do the math, though. If Curley’s 15-7 vault would have broken the record — after he cleared 15 feet on his first try that day — that means North’s other vaulter went 12-0. And since that vaulter, Zach Potter, is a freshman — a freshman who has improved from an opening vault of 7-6 — the Patriot tradition looks likely to continue.
“He’s got a lot of potential; he’s doing really good,” Curley said of his younger protege. “My best as a freshman was 10-6, but he’s learned to bend the pole already — which I couldn’t do as a freshman — and that’s helped a whole lot.”
“Everything’s good about it,” Potter said of his vaulting career, which is just four months old. “I get to hang out with Connor … [he helps] a bunch. He’s like another coach for me, basically.”
“Zach is an amazing freshman with an incredible work ethic,” said Matt Presnell, who helps coach North’s vaulters. “I’ve never seen a freshman go that high except [Vigo County record holder] Josh Dispennett [formerly of West Vigo].
“But Connor probably has the best work ethic I’ve ever seen in my life,” Presnell continued, noting that the senior is setting the perfect example for the freshman. “He’s never missed a voluntary workout, and he always stays late after everybody else leaves.”
Both vaulters also research their specialty on the internet and take every opportunity they can to learn new things. “It’s not anything magical,” Presnell said of the North tradition. “It’s all work.”
That work is leading Curley to set high goals for his final North season.
“This is definitely my best year so far,” he said this week. “I’m undefeated during the outdoor season … and I plan on being undefeated all year through.”
Curley, who has cleared 15-6 so far this season and plans to go higher, will see one of his main rivals for a possible state championship this evening at the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference championships at Ben Davis. Warren Central’s Terry Bateman has gone 16 feet — “once,” Curley emphasized — and competition between the two could go late into the night.
Curley expects to have a new pole ready for tonight’s meet, and is ready to wipe out the memories of his own state-finals performance a year ago. “I only went 13-6 [last May]; it was very disappointing,” he said.
Improvement in his technique has made the difference, Curley said. “[That improvement] has made me really consistent at high heights.”
“It’s a good feeling to have going in [to a meet] when you have one of the best in the state,” Gillaspy said this week, “plus a freshman who is competing just as well as any freshman.
“You know you’ll have pretty high points in an event right away,” continued the coach, who pointed out that senior Willie Lower has also cleared 11-6 this season.
North’s pole vault tradition isn’t limited to the boys team either. Presnell noted that it may have started with North graduate Kylie Hutson, who won multiple women’s national championships at Indiana State after her Patriot career and is vying for a spot on the 2012 Olympic team. North won the girls pole vault relay on Saturday too, with sophomore Rachel Gutish going 10-6 backed up by junior TaPring Goatee, who has cleared 9-6.
Former vaulting coach Bob Dispennett — Josh’s father — also gets some of the credit, Presnell noted. “He has a passion for vaulting thats kind of infectious, and that attracts great athletes [such as Goatee]. And that’s what you need. [To be a good vaulter] you have to be an elite athlete, and you have to be a little crazy.”