Central coach mentors pole vaulters across area

Three South Dakota state pole vault champions of different genders, different schools, different ages and different classes possess a common denominator —  knowledge from the same coach.

Aberdeen Central pole vault coach Kent Hansen helped mentor state vault champions junior Alexis Clark from Aberdeen Central, freshman Autumn Pitz from Ipswich and sophomore Cooper Schaefbauer from Herreid-Selby Area this spring. Not only did those three schools crown individual vault champions, they also won state team titles: Aberdeen Central in Class AA girls, Ipswich in Class B girls, and Herreid-Selby Area in Class B boys. All three individual vault champions are underclassmen and could return to defend their titles next season.

The jumping event not only brings out the competitiveness in coaches and athletes, but at the same time, forges a community spirit.

“It’s a unique sport,” said Hansen, who teaches high school world history, geography and sociology and is director for the Keystone National Honor Society at Central High School. “Once Alexis won the vault at the state meet, three other coaches started helping me to get her a personal best. We’re competitive, but at the same time, we’re sharing poles and trying to get each of our kids to reach the maximum of their ability.”

Aberdeen Central Athletic Director Gene Brownell is a former high school and college track and field coach. He said individuals involved in the vault aren’t quite a cult, but do form strong bonds.

“It’s a tight community,” he said. “The coaches and kids share information. It’s exactly what you think sports should be. Helping each other be the best they can be. It’s competitive, especially at conference and state meets, but they help each other.”

Hansen came in contact with Pitz and Schaefbauer at a Central pole vault camp.

“Autumn came and worked with us at the camp. I’ve known her for a couple of years. Her coaches, Bill Mower and Todd Thorson, have worked with her a lot,” said Hansen, who attended high school in Chinook, Mont., and college at Concordia-Moorhead.

Pitz was head-and-shoulders ahead of the competition winning the State B vault with a leap of 10-feet. The second place height was 8-6.

“Aberdeen Central’s Kent Hansen was very involved in my pursuit to do this,” Pitz said.

With the help of Hansen and former Aberdeen Central pole vaulter and camp clinician Josh Rife, Schaefbauer made tremendous strides.

“He’s a phenomenal athlete,” said Hansen. “Cooper jumped 10-6 or 11-feet at the start and Josh got him up to 13-feet. He won our camp. He did so much on his own. A lot of what I help them with is getting the pole they need and ideas of things to try. I did talk to Cooper before state and gave him tips on focusing on simple ideas and basic tenets. What I do with those two (Pitz and Schaefbauer) is so little. They do so much on their own.”

Schaefbauer won his vault championship on the strength of fewer misses.

“We don’t have our mat set up in Herreid, so I have to go to Aberdeen and work with the Aberdeen Central coach,” Schaefbauer said. “He helps me tremendously.”

Clark, a gymnast, leaped onto the state stage this spring by racking up big numbers in all four jumps at the Class AA level. At state she won the pole vault, placed second in the high jump and fourth in the long jump.

“Alexis does four events, so I don’t have a lot of time with her,” said Hansen who previously served as the middle school vault coach. “I’ve worked with her since seventh grade quite a bit. So much of what she does comes from being a natural athlete. She has so much body awareness.”

Just as Hansen’s protégés have improved quickly, so has his coaching ability.

“Kent is fantastic,” said Brownell. “He has grown in the pole vault in the short time he’s had this program. He’s just beginning to scratch the surface. He and (Dan Thelen of Huron and Casey Feininger of Watertown) are some of the key vault people in South Dakota.”

The concept of Aberdeen Central opening up its practice facilities and coaches to athletes in the surrounding area began with former vault coach Jeff Sahli and is being passed down the line.

“I can’t give enough praise to Jeff Sahli, the father of pole vault in South Dakota,” said Hansen. “We get so much support from Gene and from the head coaches Jim (Appl) and Greg (Murley). The other thing is having great athletes.”

A former middle school wrestling coach, Hansen’s current extracurricular assignments include head ninth grade football and announcing duties at Central home activities in addition to assistant track and field. He’s definitely hooked on the pole vault.

“If I could talk pole vault all day, I would,” he said.

Kent Hansen
Kent Hansen


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