TERRE HAUTE — Pole vault is track and field for the adrenaline junkie, Indiana State senior Nicole Hope proclaimed during a recent practice at Marks Field.
To catapult oneself about 14 feet into the air with a large $500 fiberglass pole on a daily basis is a risky endeavor.
“We have to be fearless. You can’t be afraid at all,” said Hope, who has also catapulted herself into the NCAA’s elite in the event, ranking 15th in the NCAA with her leap of 13-feet, 9 1/4.
Hope ranks second on ISU’s all-time list to Terre Haute native Kylie Hutson, a four-time NCAA champion during her career with the Sycamores.
Hutson returned to Terre Haute last October to continue her training as a professional athlete, while also picking up a new title. Hutson is serving as a volunteer coach in the event under her former mentor Jeff Martin.
The chance to work with Martin after Hutson’s success in the event is what drew Hope to Terre Haute after beginning her career at Division III Ohio Northern.
“The reason I transferred to this school was because of that success with Kylie and Jeff,” Hope said. “That’s something I wanted to be a part of. I wanted a coach like that and I wanted to become an athlete like that. And that’s pretty much happened. Jeff’s a great coach, I wouldn’t trade him for the world. Even when we’re struggling, we always work it out and go back to business. We don’t look behind us, we always look forward.”
Hope is one of six Sycamores looking to score points for Indiana State in the Missouri Valley Conference championships at Drake this weekend. Pole vault action begins today as freshman Kimyanna Rudolph ranks second in the MVC and 24th in the nation at 13-5 1/4, while senior Richelle Kimble is third in the conference and 57th in the nation at 13-1 1/4.
With a big boost from Hutson, the Sycamores have won five MVC outdoor titles and nine MVC Indoor titles since 1998. The latest were the freshman Rudolph taking the indoor title in February and Hope winning the outdoor crown in 2011.
Not too shabby.
“We’ve been pretty good. When Kylie came as a freshman and since she did well for us, That sort of elevated our program, the expectations sort of changed within the women’s vault group,” Martin said.
Traveling to the NCAA championships to coach Hutson all those times has Martin ready to get back regularly.
“I’m a competitor myself. I got the taste of what she did and I want to continue that as a coach,” Martin said. “I want to see the young ladies that we have currently in the program and that we bring into the program, continue that tradition. And it’s been fun to continue that and hopefully we can continue to do that for a little bit longer here.”
Hutson’s presence as a coach is invaluable to the athletes. One of the top in the world as an athlete, the Terre Haute North graduate is finding that she can help the ISU pole vaulters improve.
Kimble was a freshman vaulter for ISU when Hutson was preparing to repeat as NCAA champion.
“I think it was a little intimidating to come under her shadow as a freshman and I ended up developing pretty well by the end of the year,” Kimble said. “It’s awesome to have her back to show us the ropes and how to do some things.”
It’s also nice to have Hope back, Kimble said, referring to her senior teammate’s injury last outdoor season and exhausted eligibility this past indoor season.
“[Hope] puts everyone back into a routine. We missed her during indoor. But generally, outdoor season, it’s been excelling forward. So hopefully at conference we’ll have another best performance of the season and then [East] Regionals and hopefully good things happen there,” Kimble said.
Kimble has enjoyed being part of a tight-knit team within the ISU women’s team, which is picked to finish second in the MVC Championships this weekend.
“Jeff has done a tremendous job building our program. Obviously Kylie helped in assisting that process but I think that he’s done a really good job developing his athletes. As a team, our cohesion is great,” Kimble said.
Hope is ready to get after it after having to watch her teammates compete the past two seasons (2012-13 indoors and 2012 outdoors).
“We’re hoping to sweep the podium and everybody to score, that’d be good, I’m excited,” Hope said. “Pole vault is one of our big strengths. My job is to come out and jump, win the conference meet and make sure everyone has a good attitude and we all perform at our best. You don’t come to conference not to do well.”
Hope’s biggest competition appears to be Rudolph, who cleared 13-5 1/4 at Auburn. The freshman out of Lawrence Central in Indianapolis said Martin was the coach who recruited her hardest out of high school, where she took third at the state meet and won the New Balance Nationals in North Carolina with a jump of 13-2 1/2.
Rudolph aspires to join the Sycamores’ new tradition of All-Americans in the event. She is learning from Hutson and Martin what it takes.
“I think it takes a lot of dedication and a lot of attention to detail. That is the main thing for me to work on. Attention to every little detail,” Rudolph said. “I like his passion for the sport and his passion to make us better. He acts just like my HS coach which was a comfortable fit for me. With Kylie, I just like observing her and everything she has to say is something to really take in.”
Hutson has found she’s a pretty good coach.
“I never thought I would like to coach until about October of last year when I got here. It’s definitely been different. It’s definitely been fun seeing the girls continue to get better throughout the year,” Hutson said. “It’s a different feeling than being an athlete. It’s more of a mother hen feeling or a proud coach seeing the athletes get better and listen to what you’re saying and take it to heart rather than just this is some girl who doesn’t know what she’s talking about. It’s great, everybody listens. It’s a big team effort.”
Just as Hutson did during the four years competing at ISU, she’s improving as a coach.
“I feel like I’ve definitely gotten better since October. It’s helped my vaulting too, just seeing their vaults and telling what they need to do. A lot of things I tell them, I need to work on in my vault as well,” said Hutson, who recently cleared 15 feet in the Mall Vault at Des Moines, Iowa.
“I jumped 15-feet in the mall vault and then jumped 14-10ish so that was a good opener for me,” Hutson said. “Hopefully I’ll get into the New York Grand Prix and after that I’ll do a couple Olympic Training Center meets and then be ready for USA Nationals at Des Moines. I’m hoping to be in the top 3 at the USA Nationals so I’ll get the chance to represent the USA at World Championships in Moscow in August.”
Athletes like Hutson may not come around often, but the Sycamores are hoping pole vault can remain a strength for both genders in the future.
Connor Curley, another all-state vaulter out of Terre Haute North, is among the top 100 in the nation on the men’s side as an ISU freshman.
“Her being here, you can’t measure that. It’s a great resource, not only for our women vaulters but for the women’s team in general, just to have someone of her caliber here and to mentor the athletes that want to be at that elite level or want to be the best at our conference,” Martin said.
Martin — and the other ISU track coaches as well — seem to find athletes willing to put the work in that’s needed to succeed.
“For me, I look at is the athlete willing to look at the entire process,” Martin said. “It’s easy for me and easy for an athlete to look at trying to jump high too early. You step back and look at the process. That process worked well with Kylie — it’s worked well with Nicole and Richelle — and obviously with Kimyanna that process will continue to grow. Hopefully we’ll see another NCAA qualifier and All-American.”