Arkansas leans on 4 vaulters at NCAA Outdoors

By: Bob Holt
Published: Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Arkansas pole vaulter Megan Zimlich clears the bar Thursday, May 30, 2014 at the NCAA Track and Field West Preliminary meet at John McDonnell Field in Fayetteville.
Photo by Michael Woods
Arkansas pole vaulter Megan Zimlich clears the bar Thursday, May 30, 2014 at the NCAA Track and Field West Preliminary meet at John McDonnell Field in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Bryan Compton has helped turn Arkansas into Pole Vault U. since becoming field events coach for the Razorbacks' women's track and field team in 1998.

"It's not just his ability to coach the vault, but it's his ability to coach your head," Arkansas junior Sandi Morris said. "It gets you in the game.

"He can see things that most coaches would overlook. He's seen thousands of vaults and knows what he's talking about."

Compton has coached 10 Arkansas vaulters to a combined 27 All-American honors, including two-time NCAA champion Tina Sutej, who set collegiate (15 feet, 1 1/2 inches) and NCAA meet (14-7 1/4) records in 2011.

Arkansas' stretch of All-American vaulters began with April Steiner Bennett in 2001 and continued through Morris in 2013.

The Razorbacks have a chance to add to their All-American resume in the pole vault this week at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, which begin Wednesday in Eugene, Ore.

Arkansas will have four entries when the women's competition is held Friday: Morris, senior Danielle Nowell and sophomores Ariel Voskamp and Megan Zimlich.

Compton said he believes Arkansas is the first team to have four women's vaulters at an NCAA meet. The Razorbacks previously were among several teams to have three vaulters.

"We always thought three was a big number for us," Compton said. "Now it's like, 'OK, we need to go for five.' "

Arkansas has eight women in the field events who advanced to nationals by finishing among the top 12 last week at the NCAA West Preliminaries in Fayetteville. Compton also coaches Alex Gochenour, who is competing in the heptathlon.

"It's awesome to have everyone from Compton's Crew -- that's what we call ourselves -- make it to nationals who competed at regionals," Morris said. "Ever since I've been here I know we've called ourselves that.

"He's created a legacy here and it's really incredible how things that girls were doing with him 10 years ago, we still do that today."

Compton's Crew will get a major addition next year with the signing of Justin (Texas) Northwest vaulter Desiree Freier, who has set a national high school record by clearing 14-2 3/4.

"We train not to just be good, but we train to be the best," Morris said.

Morris, who transferred from North Carolina to Arkansas in the fall of 2012 after her sophomore year, is tied with Texas junior Kaitlin Petrillose for the top vault mark nationally this year at 14-9.

"Right now, it looks like those two are the best in the country," Compton said. "Hogs and Horns have a shootout at the pole vault corral."

Morris took fourth for Arkansas at the 2013 NCAA Indoor meet at 14-3 1/3, then redshirted outdoors. This year she redshirted indoors.

By redshirting one season in 2013 and 2014, Morris will have three full years to train with Compton and the Razorbacks with indoor eligibility for 2015.

"We don't want to rush, because that's what they were doing at North Carolina, just rushing everything," Compton said.

Morris, from Greenville, S.C., had a best vault of 14-1 1/4 at North Carolina. After an injury-plagued sophomore season, she transferred to Arkansas, where this year she won the SEC title with a personal-best 14-9.

"I knew that something had to change," Morris said. "Arkansas had recruited me out of high school, but my parents didn't want me to go so far away so I kind of wrote it off.

"But finally they were like, 'OK, we'll let you go if you want to.' "

Arkansas Coach Lance Harter said being detail-oriented is a key to Compton's success.

"There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle that are very intricately designed for each individual," Harter said. "Just trying to figure out during a vault competition, should you go up a pole? Should you go down a pole? You might be using the same pole with a different flex. Do you adjust your hold 3 inches or 6 inches?

"You've got to have a computer mind to be able to instantly, say 'OK, this is what you need to do,' and he's a master at that."

Morris said she is excited to go against Petrillose at nationals.

"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."

Steiner Bennett, who finished eighth at the 2008 Olympics, recently moved back to Arkansas from her native Arizona to resume training with Compton in the hopes of making the U.S. team for the 2016 Olympics.

"It just shows what his vaulters think of him," Morris said. "She's experienced other coaches now and she's like, 'All right, I know I've just got to go back to Compton.' "

Compton said Steiner Bennett came up with the Compton's Crew nickname.

"Pole vaulters like to collect, and they feed off each other," Comptons said. "When the bar stays up there that high in practice every day, you just get used to seeing it and keep trying to vault like the big girls do."

Sports on 06/10/2014