POCATELLO, Idaho – “I’ve always had an interest in track and field,” said Head Track and Field Coach Dave Nielsen. “I really liked the high jump then I really liked the pole vault because I could go higher than I could in the high jump.”
Nielsen has used that passion to build a strong tradition of track and field athletes at Idaho State University in his 27 years as the head track and field coach. In fact, he finds it impossible to pinpoint a proudest accomplishment in his coaching career.
“I don’t know if I have a proudest moment,” said Nielsen. “Obviously I have some very notable performances such as coaching the first Olympic champion in the women’s pole vault Stacey Dragila or Amber Welty winning the NCAA championship [in the women’s high jump].
“And I’ve had some equally great times with some people that probably weren’t as gifted and just watching them grow. Jake Schorzman was a walk-on kid from Raft River, Idaho. As a freshman, I was hoping he could win a heat sometime, but he actually wound up being a contributor on our championship team. To watch someone like that grow to be a great guy and fulfill some of his aspirations is about as equally fun.”
This year, Nielsen produced four Big Sky Champions: Mike Arnold in the indoor pole vault, Clint Gosack in the outdoor pole vault, Chloe Palakovich in the outdoor 800m and Hayli Worthington in the 400m hurdles. Gosack’s win the outdoor pole vault marked the fifth-straight men’s Big Sky pole vault win for Idaho State. Sophomore Caitlin Maulin finished the outdoor season ranked 25th in the nation for the women’s pole vault with a height of 13’7.25”.
Worthington, Maulin, Rebecca Clark, Justin Critser, Bryce Jenkins and Jesse Sorensen all represented Nielsen and Idaho State at the NCAA Regional Championships in Austin, Tex.
Nielsen started coaching with the urging of a biomechanics professor at the University of Iowa where competed in track and field and graduated in 1978.
“He made me see [coaching] as an academic process and it caught my attention. I saw that I could make a difference because, at Iowa, we really only had one track and field coach and couple of graduate assistants,” said Nielsen. “I wasn’t getting that much attention.”
Nielsen started coaching as a student assistant and graduate assistant at Iowa before moving to Pocatello for graduate school. He coached for two years at Wisconsin before returning to Idaho State for the head coaching position.
He said the most rewarding part of coaching is the relationships he builds with his athletes.
“Just being able to watch somebody improve or grow as a person or just being around people you know are good people,” said Nielsen. “It’s just fun to be around good people who are good people to work with.”
While track and field is the sport he pursued, Nielsen was interested in all sports from a young age.
“I used to think skiing was just about the coolest thing out there,” said Nielsen.
When he moved to Idaho, Nielsen anticipated time to ski, rock climb and fish but has since found track and field to consume him.
“My ex-wife was also an excellent gymnastics coach and she opened a gym here in Pocatello,” said Nielsen. “I would get done at the track and run over to the gym to coach gymnastics because that was another part of my background. My work has become my recreation almost to a fault.
“Maybe now that I’m getting older, I’ll start being able to make time for that other stuff.”
In the meantime, Nielsen is keeping to the track. This summer, he organized a series of summer mini- pole vault and discus meets for athletes to improve marks or qualify for US Olympic Trials. In another accomplishment to add to Nielsen’s resume, three-time Big Sky Champion pole vaulter Mike Arnold qualified for the Olympic Trials with a height of 18’1.75″ from the June 1 mini-meet.
Next week, Nielsen will be at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. with not only Arnold but former Bengals Paul Litchfield, Levi Keller and Lois Ricardi-Keller.
“I’ve been very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to have a wide range of experiences,” said Nielsen.