As both the men’s and women’s pole vault coach, Coach Kris Mack is working hard with the Bearcat vaulters of the University of Cincinnati, located in Cincinnati, Ohio up on the hill in the community of Clifton (about 2.5 miles from downtown and the Ohio River).
Coach Mack brings much experience to the table, and is leading his team to great heights. He tells us this about his history with vaulting:
“I started my coaching career while I was a vaulter at Cal Poly, SLO. I worked for Jan Johnson at his club, Sky Jumpers. I had the great opportunity to coach my wife, 1999 NCAA Champion in the vault, Paula Serrano, to a 14’ PR and a 2000 Olympic Trials Finals. After undergrad, I had the opportunity to be a graduate assistant coach at Indiana University while I pursued my Master’s in Sport Biomechanics. While I was there, I coached Dino Efthimou to his first All-American honor indoors with a vault of 17’11”. I also guided Emily Tharpe to freshman indoor and outdoor school records. My first collegiate position was at Stanford University where I coached the vertical jumps, the javelin and the multi-event athletes. Over the six seasons I coached at Stanford, I coached Graeme Hoste to three All-American honors and a PR and indoor school record of 18’5”. Two other men and NCAA runner up Heptathlete Josh Hustedt vaulted over 17′ for me. On the women’s side, I had the opportunity to coach Leila Ben-Youseff (2008 Olympian for Tunisia), and recruit and coach Katerina Stefanidi (The world junior record holder at the time and eventual 2012 Olympian and NCAA Champion). I am now in my fourth season as the jumps coach for the University of Cincinnati and will be taking over as the Head Men’s Coach next year. I also help with the USATF Pole Vault Development and volunteer every other year at the National Pole Vault Summit.”
An impressive fact we learned from Coach Mack is that there is no parent volunteer program, but the vault team does not let this get in their way. They see this as an advantage instead. Coach Mack says, “No we do not [have a parent volunteer program], but I am a strong believer that each of my vaulters should be able to teach our system at camps and clinics. I was always told I would become a better vaulter if I could teach someone else how to.”
“My walk-on standards at the University of Cincinnati are 12’4” for the women and 15’6” for the men,” says Coach Mack of his requirements to join his well-rounded team. “Sometimes I will take a chance on someone that has not achieved these marks if they display great all-around athletic ability, have speed, and perhaps did not have a HS coach. In order to be considered for scholarship, recruits need to vault at least 12’8” to 13′ for the women and 16′+ for the men. We recruit both nationally and internationally, and I enjoy bringing young men and women from all over the world together so that they can learn about other people, cultures and traditions.”
The Bearcat vault team is currently made up of six women and seven men. The vaulters this year are as follows, according to Coach Mack:
Women: Mackenzie Fields (senior, HS PR-12′, current PR-14’3.25″), Sarah Rasnick (junior, HS PR-12’6”, current PR-13’10”), Alyssa McBride (freshman, HS PR-13′, current PR-13’1.5″), Emily Clay (sophomore, HS PR-12’6”, current PR-12’8″), Chelsea Vaughan (freshman, HS PR-12’7”, current PR-12’7”), and Amanda Hotaling (freshman, HS PR-12’6”, red shirt due to injury).
Men: Josh Dangel (junior, HS PR-15’6”, current PR-17’6.5″), Tommy Marks (senior, HS PR-16′, current PR-16’6.75″), Colt Robinson (sophomore, HS PR-15′, current PR-15’7”), Kyle Kubera (senior decathlete, HS PR-14’6”, current PR-15’7”), Dillon Risser (sophomore, HS PR-15′, current PR-15’5″), Cody Curry (sophomore, HS PR-14′, current PR-15’5”), and Nathan Alexander (freshman, HS PR-15’7”, current PR-15’7”).
“Currently Josh Dangel and Mackenzie Fields are the leaders of the vault squad, but they were also selected as team captains,” Coach Mack continues of his team standouts. “Josh has had a great junior year. He won seven of the 11 competitions he has competed in. He was consistently over 17′, set our home stadium record, won his first Big East Championship title, and earned his first All-American honors when he finished 7th at the NCAA Championships in Eugene. His PR this year was 17’9.25”. He is ranked #3 indoors and #2 outdoors on our UC All-time list. He was awarded the prestigious Best Teammate Award at our track banquet and was also selected as MVP Field for our men’s team.”
Coach Mack goes on: “Mackenzie Fields has had an amazing senior season. Indoors she rewrote our Top 10 All-time marks list, set the indoor school record at 13’11.25″, won the Big East Indoor Championship, and earned her first All-American honors when she finished 10th at the NCAA Championships. Outdoors she continued her onslaught of the record books. She broke the outdoor school record 2 times raising it to 14’1” and then to 14’3.25″. She was also the Drake Relays Champion. She was named the Big East Field Athlete of the Week 4 times, won the outdoor Big East Championship Title, is ranked 6th in the NCAA and is in the top 25 in the USA. She was also awarded MVP Field at our team banquet and was also awarded the Top Cat Scholar Award for her outstanding work in the classroom.”
UC also has a good choice of vaulting equipment and facilities with a variety of training opportunities. Coach Mack says, “We have over 250 poles and continue to grow our series each year. A safe pole series is very important to me. Depending on the length of pole, we have both UCS Spirit poles as well as Pacer Carbon FX poles. I try not to mix brands when creating my series. We have an indoor track that has two pits, an in-ground runway as well as a raised board runway. We have a set of gymnastics rings, a high bar, and a swing up invert apparatus. We have slide boxes, weighted poles, training poles and stubbies. Our next addition will be a strap-bar for swinging giants and learning to do clear hip to handstand to giant.”
When it comes to division and competition for this year, Coach Mack tells us, “We are a Division 1 program currently in the Big East Conference. Next year we will be joining the newly formed American Athletic Conference (AAC). The schools in our new conference will be UConn, Temple, Memphis, Houston, South Florida, Central Florida, SMU, Eastern Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa. Next year we will still have Louisville and Rutgers as well until they move into their new conferences.”
“Our team conditioning kicks off after the first week of the school year,” says Coach Mack of their training schedule. “Both the men’s and women’s teams train together from all events for a month. It’s a great time for teammates to get acquainted with each other and start building unity as a team. Every year’s conditioning is uniquely updated but some of the classic UC training remains including; 2-a-day morning runs/workouts and lifting (6:30am), stadium steps, hill runs and the ever-popular ‘Cincinnati Death Circuit’, which is based on the Crossfit competitions. Following conditioning, the vaulters continue strength and power training incorporating pole vault-specific exercises.
Training does not stop with the season for the Bearcats. Coach Mack continues: “In the off-season, the vaulters help with the University of Cincinnati track and field summer camp and pole vault camp later in the summer. Though many of our student athletes go home for the summer, many of our vaulters stay in Cincinnati and train with each other in preparation for the upcoming track season. The vaulters get along great and often have jumper dinners/outings and their annual pumpkin carving tradition for Halloween.”
“We have had a great list of contributing pole vaulters here at UC,” brags Coach Mack. “The men’s current school record is still held by Mike Albrinck at 17’9.75’’ set in 1994. Mike is a Cincinnati native and coaches at Lasalle High School. He coached current vaulter Josh Dangel, who just became a 2013 All-American at the NCAA Track and Field Championship. Josh still aspires to break his coach’s record (he is 1cm away). The indoor record is held by Chris Smith at 17’9” set in 2005.”
“Since the women’s team is relatively new (established in the early 90’s), the women’s side continues to set records yearly and proves to be leaders in the Big East and nationally,” Coach Mack continues. “Other key vaulter alumni include: On the women’s side: Brittany Kilma (2008 former school record holder/Big East Champion/first female PV national qualifier-15th, PR-13’7’.75”), Michelle Eby (2012 former school record holder/Big East Champion/ second female PV national qualifier-17th, 13’8.5’’), Tara Meier (Big East Champion, PR-12’11”), Stefanie Ponte (4th place at Big East-12’3.75”), and Kayla Dunn (National Preliminary Meet qualifier, PR-12’10”).
“And on the men’s side (college PR’s): Mike Albrink (outdoor school record holder, PR-17’9.75’’), Chris Smith (indoor school record, Conference USA Champion, 5th at USATF, PR-17’9”), Dan Albrink (PR-16’8.75’’), Chris Wineberg (decathlon school record with decathlon PV PR-17’1’’), Matt Botos (PR-16’8.75”), and Chad Beamer (PR-16’4.75”).”
All this history of great vaulters at UC really helps the current team as well. Coach Mack says, “We do not have an elite pole vaulter that trains locally, but we do get to watch UC alum and 2008 Olympic gold medalist Mary Wineberg, and UC Alum and 2008 Olympic silver medalist David Payne train. Mary’s Husband, Chris Wineberg, was a decathlete legend here at UC (did quite well in the vault) and now serves as an assistant coach in charge of 400/800 and multis. It is great to work with a staff that is well informed with the vault and can contribute.”
As with most of our featured teams, there is fun to be had on the Bearcat vault team. “Both men’s and women’s teams have great camaraderie and frequently have team dinners and game nights,” says Coach Mack. “The men’s team also likes to head out into the country and go 4-wheeling and blow stuff up at one of the member’s farm. Every other year we go to the National Pole Vault Summit in Reno, NV. Even though the marks do not count for NCAA qualifying, I still think it is an experience that all pole vaulters should have and we support the student-athlete experience here at UC. The teams also spend time with each other through countless hours of community service working with charity organizations and schools including; Girls On the Run, Corryville Catholic Elementary School, The Freestore Food Bank, and The Veterans Hospital. An event that many of the student athletes participate in is the annual ‘gatorade-pong’ tournament to raise money for MADD (Mothers against Drunk Driving). It is put on by our student athlete advisory committee, of which Josh Dangel and many more of our track and field athletes are a part of. Our annual Halloween pumpkin carving and BBQ at my house is also a great event. Nothing like a good night of carving, bbq, live music, and s’mores by the bonfire!”
One other majorly exciting fact we got from Coach Mack is that programs and scholarships are being reinstated, which is big news. He says, “I believe we are one of a kind at UC. While many schools are cutting men’s programs, we will be adding men’s indoor track next year and will reinstate men’s track scholarships (they were cut 4 years ago due to budget concerns). I can’t thank our Athletic Director Whit Babcock, and UC President Santa Ono enough for the support they have shown the Olympic sports here at UC.”
“It was also pretty cool that we swept all the pole vault competitions at this year’s Big East Outdoor Championships. Mackenzie won the women’s vault, Josh won the men’s vault, and Kyle Kubera won the decathlon men’s vault,” Coach Mack adds to his list of exciting things going on this year. The University of Cincinnati vaulters have a great thing going. We are proud to feature them this month and wish them much continued success.
By: Michelle Walthall – Vaulter Magazine LLC.