Pole vaulters use bond to achieve team goals

When Chris Wyckoff found out he was going to Rutgers as a senior in high school, he immediately knew who to call. The Toms River East High School product phoned his friend and fellow pole vault competitor Pat Gray, who also committed to Rutgers.

The two met the summer before their junior years of high school as members of the High Performance Athletic Club, a summer travel team. They also competed against each other in high school at the Meet of Champions.

Wyckoff called Gray to ask him to be his roommate their freshman year. They shared more in common that year than a living space, as their time competing against one another helped them better each other’s technique in the pole vault.

“I feel by jumping together in high school, we learned each other’s technique, and it made it easier once we got to college to know what we had to work on and how to coach each other,” Wyckoff said.

The road for the two juniors has not always been easy in their careers as Scarlet Knights, but the pair has stayed the path and persevered through various injuries.

Gray pulled his left hamstring at the end of his senior year at Hightstown High School, and the injury lingered with him for the first two years of his career. In his first healthy season, Gray captured third in the Metropolitan Indoor Championships with a height of 4.65 meters.

Still, he looks to score his first points in a Big East Championship meet. He gets his chance next month, when the Knights travel to Tampa.

“As a pole vaulter, sometimes you get called a head case. And you get called a head case because you’re like, ‘I know what I need to fix, but I can’t fix it,’” Gray said. “And it’s really these games that you end up playing with yourself, trying to figure out what’s going to work to keep you consistent. Consistency is the most important thing.”

Wyckoff has been able to establish that consistency for the Knights when healthy. As a sophomore, he finished third in the pole vault at the indoor IC4A Championships and fourth in the outdoor IC4As. But a broken ankle his freshman year and a pulled left hamstring this season  prevented him from reaching his goal of becoming a Big East champion.

“My goal is to win a Big East Championship along with a team Big East Championship,” Wyckoff said. “I feel like everything’s pretty much there, I just need to put it together and get a little bit more consistent.”

He has to wait until next season to reach that goal, as a pulled left hamstring suffered at this year’s indoor IC4A Championships forced him to redshirt the outdoor season.

As pole vaulters, the two normally reach heights of 15 to 17 feet in the air. But they must still contend with the perception that their skill is not as taxing as other track and field events.

“It’s funny because people say, ‘Oh, you’re a pole vaulter,’ and they think of high school pole vaulters,” Gray said. “They go out, pole vault a little bit — and then lay on the mats and get a tan. I don’t tan, and we don’t lay on the mats. We vault maybe once or twice a week depending on where the meets fall. And all the other days are literally just training to keep you strong.”

The duo hopes to finish its career strong with a Big East title.
By Ben Cain , The Daily Targum

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Chris Wycoff

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