Ten fresh vaulters bring better outlook

By Symone Woolridge

The SIU pole vault team has incorporated 10 first-year vaulters with less than a handful of upperclassmen into next season’s group of 13. 

This is the largest number of new members in years.

By meshing new college athletes with more experienced ones, the jumpers have built competition amongst themselves.


The silent rivals yet dynamic group of vaulters have become great competitors. Freshman Chad Weaver said his teammates make weight lifting and certain drills in practice into competitions.

“With this many vaulters, only a selected few of us get to go if it’s an invitation meet,” he said. “So it’s about challenging the upperclassmen to push themselves.”

The enjoyable competition lies within the men’s team more than the women’s team, which is more of a mental contest. Although the men can be aggressive, they still act as a team and assist each other as much as possible.

Weaver said older jumpers such as junior Alex Lietz, the only upperclassman on the men’s team, has helped him on the track. Weaver has shown progression and is now a freshman to look out for.

In high school he was a two-time indoor 2A state champion in the pole vault. This year, he has won two competitions and jumps. Coach Brian Porter said he progresses every week.

“What I like about Chad is that he is never satisfied,” Porter said. “That’s one thing I look for as a coach—even if they’ve reached their personal best, they still look for what’s next.”

Juniors Caselyn Harding and Alexandria Melton are the oldest women on the pole vault team.


Last season Harding competed in the pole vault five times indoors and five times outdoors. As a freshman Harding recorded five top-three finishes and two runner-up finishes during her outdoor season.

Harding said the number of freshmen this year has completely changed the vault team. Although this season the team is utterly different than the last, the freshmen have forced the upperclassmen to push harder to secure their spots.

“This year was really different, but it has made us more of a team because we all have to adapt to how we practice and how we compete,” Harding said. “But having so many people helps us strive to try to get better and compete harder.”

Porter said the difference in coaching more experienced athletes than newcomers can be different yet similar.

“I want to feed off of what athletes are doing and make them better from there,” he said. “My thing is, if it’s not broke don’t fix it. If they’re jumping well then you have to think they’re jumping well for a reason.”

Freshman Cara Engel came to SIU with a personal best of 10-6. In the few meets she has competed in, she has already progressed into jumping 12 feet. Engel did not start competing in track and field until her junior year of high school, but she now hopes to do great things at SIU.

Engel said it’s nice working with the upperclassmen because they offer guidance if Porter isn’t around.

“In meets, the girls really build off of each other because we’re all pretty much around the same [jumping] height,” she said. “Although we all want to win on our own, we’re still a team and we still push each other to win.”

Next season the pole vaulters are expecting two talented recruits.

Illinois’ top-ranked female pole vaulter Lindsey Murray of Harrisburg, who was two-time all-state and three-time all-conference, will join the Salukis for 2014.

Murray won a Junior Olympics All-American award and recently competed in the women’s high jump for the first time.

Her first experience won her the competition, clearing 5 feet. Porter said she will be a powerful addition to next year’s team.

“Lindsey Murray is an athlete if I’ve ever seen one,” Porter said. “She can come in right now and be our top girl and literally do something on the national level.”

SIU will also welcome Jonathan Walsh, a top-ranked junior college pole vaulter and 2012 Illinois High School Association pole vault state champion. Walsh hit 5.20m (17-1.00), which boosted him to the best clearance in the nation.

“We are super excited to have Jon Walsh and that level of an athlete on our team next year,” Porter said. “I think he is going to come in and make a statement right off of the bat and my goal as a coach for him is to do that.”