Sam Kendricks (photo by Joshua McCoy)
May 10, 2012
By Mike Swartz
Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations student assistant
In the sport of track and field, pole vaulting is a different animal.
The athlete runs with a pole over twice his or her height and vaults over a 15-foot-long bar situated about two stories high in the air. The loss of total aerial control and a relatively large margin for accidents has given the sport of pole vaulting a daredevil attitude for high-flying adrenaline junkies, or just peak-performing athletes.
Currently competing at Ole Miss are the men's school record holder, freshman Sam Kendricks, and the women's school record holder, junior Neal Tisher.
Kendricks set the indoor school record (17-4.25) and the outdoor record (17-11) in less than a year of collegiate competition. The hometown Oxford native broke Baker Vinci's record marks that had held since 1985. He currently ranks third in the SEC and eighth in the NCAA.
Tisher broke the indoor school record with a mark of 13-11 this year, while she set the outdoor record as a sophomore (13-9.75). She currently ranks top five in the SEC and top 30 nationally.
Tisher, who began pole vaulting in seventh grade, says the transition from gymnastics to pole vaulting made it much easier to learn. However, she says that it is difficult to stay comfortable in the sport.
"There's a lot of changing going on in pole vaulting" says Tisher, "For example, I tried a longer pole about a week ago and was thrown back on the ground."
Freshman Sam Kendricks also began pole vaulting in middle school after growing up around the track. His father, Scott Kendricks, is the head track coach at Oxford High School. The younger Kendricks began mastering the pole vault at a young age, while competing in anything else to make him jump higher.
"I ran the hurdles and the 4x400 meter relay," Kendricks said, "basically anything to make me better at pole vaulting."
Ole Miss Associate Head Coach Doug Blackwell, who mentors the Rebel pole vaulters, says pole vaulting takes a bit of a "daredevil" attitude.
"The best way to explain it is to compare it to diving," says Blackwell. "People say you have to have fortitude to dive and land properly. Vaulting is very similar in that you need faith that the pole won't break and that you'll land safely in the pit."
Off the track, Tisher keeps active off the coast of her hometown, Mobile, Ala.
"I love to wakeboard and white water kayak," said Tisher. "But I'll wakeboard all summer long."
Kendricks keeps busy off of the track with Army ROTC here at Ole Miss. "It keeps me pretty busy between track and classes," he says.
With both Tisher and Kendricks becoming prominent in the pole vault, both could imagine continuing the sport after their senior seasons.
"I would love to continue competitively in the pole vault," Tisher says. "But if not, I will at least keep jumping on my own after college."
Kendricks, on the other hand, has a different situation. "I have a contract with the Army, so I could be put into active duty, but if I could pole vault professionally, that would be a dream."
He looks to further his progress already made as a freshman.
"I came in with a goal to eventually break the school record," Kendricks said. "Now I'm looking to break the 18-feet mark."
The high-flying duo is determined to both literally and figuratively raise the bar as they push on to the end of the track season.
"It's nice to finally be recognized as a pole vaulting school," Tisher said.
"It's always a great feeling to have two outstanding athletes improving from year to year," said Blackwell.
Keep up with Tisher, Kendricks and the rest of the Ole Miss track team as they compete in the SEC Championships Thursday-Sunday in Baton Rouge, La.