The sophomore from Mt. Ida has made as big a splash as any athlete in the Razorbacks’ history, winning SEC and NCAA individual titles his first two years. Over the weekend, he reaffirmed his position atop the vaulting circuit when his poles failed to arrive for Arkansas’ dual meet at Oregon, lost by airlines dealing with numerous cancellations as a result of a snow storm.
Using equipment borrowed from the Ducks, Irwin still came in first place, clearing a height of 18 feet, 1/2-inch and helping the Razorbacks to a win in the head-to-head matchup between two of the country’s top programs.
“It’s a mental sport,” Irwin said. “I have my poles and I know what each can do. Going to something completely new throws you off a little bit. You just have to adjust.
“It took a little while to get used to. I found a decent line of poles I felt I could use and made the best of what we had.”
Using unfamiliar poles in vaulting is an adjustment not only because of feel, but also because of make. Arkansas assistant Doug Case, who works with the pole vaulters, said the Razorbacks use fiberglass poles made by UCS. Oregon, which is sponsored by Gill, uses poles made from carbon.
“We didn’t know if the flex numbers matched,” Case said. “If you’re jumping on a 15.5 flex on the brand of pole we have, is it the same as a 15.5 flex as a carbon pole? We had no idea.
“They had to be the right size, the right weight and the right flex number. We had to dig through all their poles and came out with about five or six poles we thought we could jump on. Every time we jumped it was a test to see how the pole is going to react. I’ve never had anybody borrow poles and do that well. When you’re as good as he is, you can do things like that. For the average guy to come in and change poles the day of the meet, it’s almost impossible.”
Irwin, whose lost equipment still hadn’t arrived back in Fayetteville as of Wednesday’s practice, said the experience was a first for him.
“I’ve always had my poles,” Irwin said. “They have either traveled with me in high school or here we’ve been good about getting them where they need to be.”
Irwin will be back in competition this weekend when the No. 3 Razorbacks host No. 1 Florida and No. 23 Ohio State in the Arkansas Invitational at John McDonnell Field. Case said Irwin will increase his vault run to 16 steps after using a 12-step run at Oregon, which should result in higher clearances.
“I try to make it a progression and that’s why we start with shorter approaches and through the year back it up,” Case said. ‘It’s all about building confidence through the season. When you win an indoor championship there’s some confidence there. I’m trying to make him feel good and confident that he’s going to have success each time he pole vaults. I think we’re at a point now where we’re going to see if he can get some things done at the end of the season.”
Despite winning the SEC outdoor title a year ago with a school record 18-foot, 9-inch jump, Irwin failed to make the NCAA championships after falling short in the NCAA preliminaries. Irwin said the long outdoor season took a toll on him physically as a freshman, but is hopeful he will be able to draw from the experience in his quest for the NCAA meet this time around.
Ironically enough, this year’s NCAA championships will be held at Oregon.
“Getting another jumping experience there before nationals is going to hopefully play to my advantage,” Irwin said.
“I haven’t done anything spectacular yet. Hopefully I’ll do something here toward the end of the season.”