TONTOGANY — Caleb Baus was a late starter in the pole vault.
But the Otsego High School senior has proven to be a quick learner and a hard worker.
Even though Baus didn’t start vaulting until his sophomore season, he’s the defending Northern Buckeye Conference champion in his specialty and is aiming for a berth in the Division II state meet after coming close last season.
Baus cleared 13-6 to win the conference championship last season after going 11-6 to finish third as a sophomore. He finished fifth in the Division II regional at Dayton last season at 13-6, missing a trip to state by one place.
His outdoor best of 14-0 came Saturday when he won the Liberty-Benton Invitational.
He went an indoor-best of 14-6 in March to finish third in the state indoor meet, an event sanctioned by the state track and field coaches association.
“I loved it from the start. As soon as I picked up a pole, it felt like home,” said Baus, who cleared 10-6 in his first varsity meet and had a best of 11-6 as a sophomore. “I wanted to learn more and more. It never felt like work. It was a fun sport. I knew I’d stick with it.”
Baus ran the 100 and the 110 hurdles in middle school, but became a distance runner as a freshman. He decided to try the pole vault as a sophomore, in part, because field event athletes ran a shorter warmup than those who didn’t compete in a field event.
Baus primarily was recruited to event by then teammate Cole Gorski, who won the state pole vault championship in 2014, and NBC championships in 2013 and 2014. Gorski is vaulting collegiately at Ohio State where he finished ninth in the Big Ten Conference meet last season.
Otsego assistant coach Shaun Downey helped persuade Baus to try the event. Downey won state titles in 1988 and 1989, and held the school record of 16-1 until his brother, Travis, broke it in 1993. Travis Downey won a state title 1992, and finished second at state in 1991 and 1993.
“He’s shown no fear from the start, and that’s something you don’t always see. He was a natural at it,” said Shaun Downey, whose son, Lucas, is a freshman vaulter for the Knights. “It’s not an easy sport to learn. A lot of the best vaulters are the ones who start doing it in junior high.
Assuming the weather improves later this spring, Downey believes Baus could jump well into the 15s and even the low 16s.
“He’s caught on quickly,” Downey said. “He’s on a fast track. I’ve thrown a lot at him, and he’s handled it well.”
“He’s very coachable, he’s a team leader and he wants to learn,” Otsego head coach Scott Wongrowski said of Baus, one of the team’s captains. “He’s a heck of a hard worker, and he’s student of track. He wants to learn everything he can.”
Baus jumped 13-4 at the regional last season, and believes the experience will be a big help should be there again later this month.
According to Ohio Milesplit, Baus’ 14-foot vault puts him in a three-way tie for third in the Dayton regional and an eight-way tie for sixth in the state. The top four finishers in the regional advance to the state meet June 3-4 at Ohio State University’s Jesse Owens Stadium
“I was really anxious at that meet,” Baus said of the regional last season. “I’ve learned to calm down and go back to the basics. I’ll be a lot more comfortable, knowing what to expect.
Baus was at Jesse Owens Stadium to watch Gorski win his state title.
“Every day, I’m thinking about running down the Ohio State runway and jumping at state,” Baus said. “I never thought I’d get there when I first started. To make that much progress is astounding.”
The 5-foot-10, 150-pound Baus has an excellent mix of speed and strength, and benefitted from some offseason gymnastics training.
Baus’ other events this spring have included the sprints and sprint relays. He also was a four-time All-NBC honoree in cross country, earning first-team honors three times. He was seventh in the league meet last fall, fifth as a junior and fourth as a sophomore.
His mom is Lisa Wensink, a state placer in track and cross country at Otsego before going onto to run collegiately at Toledo. She is the former Lisa Sautter.
Baus has a 3.0 grade-point average, and plans to attend the University of Findlay, Lourdes University or Owens Community College. If he attends Findlay or Lourdes, he’ll vault collegiately.
Next for Baus and the Knights is the Tim Downey Invitational Friday.
The meet is named in honor of Shaun’s and Travis’ dad, who was an assistant coach at Otsego. Tim Downey died in 2012 after a three-year battle with brain cancer. He started coaching at Otsego Middle School when Shaun joined the team.
Two other sons fared well in the pole vault. Drew won a state title in 1999, and Ethan won a Suburban Lakes League championship in 2001. Son Nathan also competed in the event, but at 6-6, 240 pounds, his primary events were the discus and the shot put.
Tim Downey started his sons pole vaulting indoors at the family barn in Weston. The indoor training facility has since moved to the garage at Downey Plumbing and Heating in rural Bowling Green.
The meet begins with the field events and the 4×1,600 relay at 4:30 p.m., followed by the running finals at 5:30 p.m.
Joining the Knights in the seven-team field are Rossford, Delta, Lima Bath, Springfield, Scott and Swanton.