Not long ago, championship track and field meets didn’t get serious for Texas A&M until their second or third days. The Aggies had more track than field, so they scored most of their points during the meets’ final stages.
That could change Friday in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where a quartet of pole-vaulters highlight a field crew that has the Aggie men excited about collecting some opening-day points at the Southeastern Conference indoor meet.
“People think of A&M track as a sprint squad, that they have a bunch of sprinters and they are going to win the 4×4, and this year it’s kind of the tables turned,” A&M senior pole vaulter Chase Wolfle said. “We have a bunch of really good throwers and a bunch of really good jumpers. It’s nice in that we are diverse in that aspect, but it’s also a little bit different than I’m used to. I think it is still shocking to [the sprinters], too, because it’s like, wait a minute … we scored 20 points in the pole vault.”
On the men’s side, the Aggies have four of the SEC’s top six vaulters entering the conference’s two-day indoor meet that wraps up Saturday at the Randal Tyson Track Center.
“Part of it is about being part of the team, about being a part of a championship team, and the way you become part of the championship team is you perform at the championships,” A&M’s multi-events and jumps coach Kris Grimes said. “This weekend in particular is all about the team. It’s about scoring points for the team, and they absolutely get that it’s not about who gets first second or third. It’s about how many points can we score for our team.”
Last year at the SEC indoor meet, Wolfle led a trio of A&M pole vaulters to 15 points by matching the school indoor record with a clearance of 18 feet, 0.5 inches. He finished third, while then freshmen Audie Wyatt and Carl Johansson finished fourth and fifth with personal bests of 17-6.25 and 17-3, respectively.
The Aggies added Jacob Wooten to the fold this season, and he’s already pushing to be the group’s top dog. The Tomball native is the nation’s leading freshman with his leap of 17-11, also A&M’s best in 2015-16.
“We just have a really good atmosphere here, like to push each other, so it’s nice,” said Wooten, who has won three of the five meets he’s attended this season. “We are kind of like family here. That is the real thing. We definitely push each other in practices and encourage each other when we need it at the meets.”
Wyatt has matched Wooten with three wins and has a season-best of 17-9, which he has cleared twice — the first to set an A&M Quadrangular meet record and the second to win the Tyson Invitational, the final warmup for the indoor postseason at this weekend’s venue.
After his latest victory, Wyatt predicted either he, Wolfle or Wooten will break A&M’s three-way tie for its indoor record at the SEC meet. Wolfle, Greg West (1990) and Richard McDonald (1998) share the 18.5 mark.
“To me that is not [adding] pressure,” Wyatt said of his prediction. “To me that is just excitement, going in knowing I have a chance to break the record, because I know I can do it. I honestly feel like we are all going to clear it. We are all going to break it, and then it’s the next height that is going to be the deciding height of who wins and holds the record.”
Wolfle has no problem if he loses his share of the record, although the senior hinted he’d like to hold it for a few more weeks.
“I want [Wyatt] to break it, because then I think it will light a little fire in everybody, and I think everybody is going to want to break the next one,” Wolfle said. “[Wooten and Wyatt] are going to go back and forth with the record for a while. Hopefully I can jump a big bar this weekend, and we can all three jump big bars, just mine is one centimeter higher than theirs, so I can leave with the record. It doesn’t really matter. I just want us all to jump high and score a lot of points for the team.”
The Aggie foursome will all be chasing Tennessee’s Jake Blankenship, who has cleared 18-9.25 this season.
“[Blankenship] has jumped pretty high, jumped higher than all of our guys by several inches and he is certainly the favorite, but the thing about the pole vault is you never know,” Grimes said. “Some of these guys are capable of jumping really high, and if they catch it good, they can jump as high as he does.”
The quartet is hoping their strength in numbers will give the maroon and white an edge Friday as the Aggies try to take over the event.
“We all kind of bully each other to success,” Wyatt said. “We mess with each other and get each other pumped up. We push each other a lot, and it is just great having people push you like that, because when you are the only one, it’ kind of boring, I guess. But with these guys — Chase, Jacob and Carl — it never gets boring. They are always keeping things fresh.”
Team and school record top the quartet’s priority list, but qualifying for the NCAA meet is also at stake.
“To get those guys all qualified for NCAAs would be great,” Grimes said. “Jacob is solid in there. Audie has a good mark, and Chase needs to move up. If we get all the guys in the top five that would be great.”
The NCAA indoor meet is set for March 11-12 in Birmingham, Alabama.