Good Sports: Pole vaulters breaking records at Fresno Pacific

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The track and field season is just getting started in the Valley, but one athlete is already setting school records at Fresno Pacific.

There is a joke going around Fresno Pacific - that fourth-year coach AJ Blackburn is running "Pole Vault U."

A former vaulter at Fresno State, coach Blackburn led Clovis East to produce five Valley champs in ten years. Here at FPU he's leading the Sunbirds in a new approach.

His approach focuses more on the process than the outcome.

"He's really big into the mental side and mental reps instead of physical reps," says freshman vaulter Keaton Daniel.

"It's like kind of a scary event so being able to have the confidence to run full speed down a runway with a giant pole in your hand and take off the ground is really intense."

That approach is starting to show results.

Last season Nikki Crouch set a new school record.

This year, freshman Keaton Daniel set a new mark for the men.

His previous PR was the Nevada state record of 16 feet five inches. In his first collegiate jump, he cleared 18 feet - a mark that would have won last year's D-2 national championship.

"For him to have a foot and a half PR is pretty phenomenal, particularly as you get higher the window gets more narrow. It's a special thing to be 18 years old and jump 18 feet," says Blackburn.

So just how did the Sunbirds land someone whose current PR places him in the top ten of the D-1 level?

"Definitely I had other options but coming to FPU I was able to see a community," he says.

Adds Kristi Yorke, another FPU vaulter:
"It's very much like our whole environment is team-based. We support each other although we're all doing our individual events. I don't think I would be where I'm at right now if it weren't for my teammates."

That holistic approach is already yielding results and leading coach Blackburn to appreciate the "pole vault U" he's creating.

"You don't really know until you look back and you go, 'Wow that was really special and unique.' What's different about this time is I know I'm experiencing it in real time and what we've accomplished so far with Keaton's big jump is just the tip of the iceberg," he says.
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