FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas has become a destination for pole vaulters because of its success under assistant coach Bryan Compton.
The guru has helped 10 Arkansas women’s pole vaulters collect 27 All-American honors. The list included Olympian April Steiner-Bennett and Tina Sutej, who won two national titles and set the collegiate record in 2011.
But with all the success the Razorbacks have enjoyed in the event, the 2014 outdoor season broke uncharted territory for Compton. It’s the first time four members of “Compton’s Crew” qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
“Quite a few of us have had three,” Compton said. “But not four.”
The foursome will take flight Friday, when the women’s pole vault competition takes place at the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore. The Razorbacks are hoping to add to their SEC Outdoor title with a strong showing at the national meet and Friday’s results will have an impact on their success.
Sandi Morris, who is one of the favorites to win the national title, said it helps to know Arkansas has strength in numbers in the pole vault. She’ll be joined by senior Danielle Nowell and sophomores Ariel Voskamp and Megan Zimlich.
“I think it will be intimidating to see four of us roll up into nationals,” Morris said.
All four qualified for the national meet after finishing among the top 12 during the NCAA West Preliminary meet two weeks ago. In an event that can produce maddening results — Arkansas men’s pole vaulter Andrew Irwin, a former national champion, failed to clear the bar Wednesday — the consistency was impressive.
But Arkansas coach Lance Harter said nothing is surprising with Compton, who has helped transform the Razorbacks into Pole Vault U.
“He’s very disciplined, very detail-oriented,” Harter said. “And he’s got a very distinct training plan, in and out of the weight room. It’s not just all on the runway. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle that are very intricately designed for each individual because they all come with such different strengths and weaknesses.”
Morris, who won the SEC Outdoor Championship, is Compton’s most accomplished pupil this season. The South Carolina native is competing at the NCAA meet for the first time as a Razorback after beginning her collegiate career at North Carolina.
She decided to leave the Tar Heels after suffering through an injury-plagued sophomore year, feeling that “something had to change.” Morris initially was recruited by the Razorbacks out of high school, but didn’t offer much consideration because her parents wanted Morris to stay closer to home.
She wouldn’t miss out on her second chance to join Compton at Arkansas.
“Once they go, we leave them alone,” Compton said. “We say hi to them at the meets and stuff like that. We ran into North Carolina a couple of times when we were at Virginia Tech. … But I think she always had it in the back of her mind, ‘What if?’”
Compton said Morris is finding out. She finished fourth at the 2013 NCAA Indoor meet, but redshirted the 2013 outdoor and 2014 indoor seasons. Speed is her best attribute and two years worth of fundamental work under Compton has paid off.
“He can see things that most coaches would overlook,” Morris said. “Just subtle things like somebody might see two vaults and they won’t be able to tell the difference. He can pick out small things from the pole carry to the take off, to the form going over the bar. There’s many little things that he can pick out more easily just because he’s had so much experience and seen so many vaults.”
Smith enters the NCAA Outdoor Championships tied with Texas junior Kaitlin Petrillose for the top vault in the nation this year (14 feet, 9 inches).
“We both know what the other is capable of and I think it just depends on who is going to go out there and perform the best on that day,” Morris said. “I think that I’ve kind of built up to peak at the right moment.”
The Razorbacks are hoping to pull points from the rest of the crew as well.
Compton knows it was an impressive accomplishment to get four into the NCAA Outdoor Championships. He said it has been the talk of the “pole vault world” the past two weeks, but the accomplishments can’t stop there.
“We’ve got to go there and see how many we can get on the podium,” Compton said.
Then it’s time to try to clear another bar for Compton’s pole vaulters.
“It’s one of those things where we always thought three was a big number for us,” Compton said. “Now it’s like, OK, we need to go for five next.”