China Spring’s Brandon Bray and Riley Richards feel lucky because they don’t have to look outside of their own pole vaulting pit for inspiration.
They’ve got themselves. And they’ve got their fathers.
Brandon is the son of China Spring pole vaulting coach Jeff Bray, an All-America pole vaulter at Florida State in the 1990s. Riley is the son of Brandon Richards, a star pole vaulter at Midway in the 1980s who competed at UCLA and Baylor.
Riley comes from pole vaulting royalty since his grandfather is Olympic champion Bob Richards who won gold medals in 1952 and 1956.
“It’s quite an honor to have a dad who was that good,” Riley Richards said. “When you can get coaching from a man like him it really helps. My granddad helps on the inspirational side. He’s quite the figure. I stop and think that my grandpa was one of best pole vaulters ever.”
Brandon Bray will try to win his second straight state championship Saturday after bringing home Class 3A gold as a junior last year with a vault of 17 feet, 8½ inches. It was the best vault ever for a 17-year-old and even topped his dad’s best high school vault of 17-7 when he competed in Elk City, Okla.
“Brandon is a very natural vaulter,” Jeff Bray said. “He’s tall and fast and has a good takeoff. Riley is trying to catch Brandon and they’ve got a healthy competition. They want to see each other succeed and at the same time they want to outjump each other.”
If Brandon Bray defends his championship, he’ll have to beat hard charging sophomore Riley Richards who has the 14th best vault in the country this year at 16 feet, six inches. Bray’s top vault this year has been 17-6 which ranks second nationally.
“Brandon is quite a vaulter and quite a friend,” Riley said. “We train and think the same way, and we jump a lot the same. He’s been a peer figure for me. He’s leaving the footprints I’ve got to follow to do well.”
Bray and Richards not only compete for China Spring, they also train together for the Zero-G Elite Pole Vault Club that is run by their fathers. The year-round competition has brought out the best in both of them.
“Brandon (Richards) and I have been connected since the 1990s,” Jeff Bray said. “It was kind of haphazard that we both moved out here and our sons ended up together. The great thing for Brandon (Bray) and Riley is they have two sets of eyes watching them.
“With just me watching the kids, you don’t see all their flaws,” he added. “When you add another person in the mix and another opinion, it really helps the kids.”
Several other top area pole vaulters train at the Zero-G club including Bosqueville’s Greyson and Graham Gonzalez who are competing in the Class 2A state meet. Mart’s Savannah Freeman, China Spring’s Kaylee Adams and Lorena’s Carly Campbell will also compete in the state meet. Reicher’s Tyler Zander won the TAPPS Class 4A pole vault last week.
Brandon Bray will be headed to Texas Tech next year on a track scholarship but would like to leave China Spring with another state title.
“I’m pretty fired up,” Brandon Bray said. “I’m probably more fired up than last year to be honest. I don’t think there is more pressure, but I obviously want to do better than last year.”
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