Anthony Curran, currently the proud volunteer pole vault coach and Director of Track and Field/Cross Country Camps and Clinics at University of California, Los Angeles, gave us an exciting look into the UCLA Bruin vaulters, their accomplishments and the vaulting program. The detailed information he has been kind enough to share with us is very impressive.
We first asked Coach Curran about his coaching history. Here is what he had to say: “I competed in the pole vault for UCLA from 1978-1982, and began coaching here in 1983. This year will be my 30th year of coaching at my alma mater. During my collegiate career, I was a 4-time All-American placing 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 4th, respectively. In 1982, I was the Pac-10 champion at 18’2½”. At that time, the mark measured second all-time in Bruins history. Currently, it ranks number 5. I continued competing after college from 1983 through 1994 while volunteering for the UCLA pole vault squad. I had my career best jump in 1992 clearing 18’81/2”. After 17 years as a volunteer pole vault coach, I was hired as a full time assistant coach in 1999 and later took over all jumps responsibilities in 2006. The following year, I was named the NCAA Western Region women’s jumps coach of the year.”
“In addition to coaching at UCLA,” Coach Curran continues, “I started No Limit Sports Track and Field Club in 1985 (http://nolimitsports.com/index.php). NLS is a track club focused on pole vaulting for all ages, ranging from middle school to the Olympic level. Recently, I have expanded NLS to include a youth track and field program, focusing on extensive training in all events of track and field. I hold evening clinics at UCLA and Redondo Union High School. The goal is to increase the interest of track and field in the middle schools and to develop the young athletes into collegiate level athletes.”
As we talked more with Coach Curran it became even more evident why he has reason to be proud of his Bruin vaulting family. While continuing to talk about his experience with coaching, his words are filled with enthusiasm. He says, “UCLA holds the highest number of 18’ vaulters in collegiate history (8) and I had the pleasure of coaching seven of them. I am also one of the eight. My good friend, and San Diego State’s pole vault coach, Rich Fox brought to my attention that UCLA’s combined pole vault program was ranked number 1 in the country with the highest number of 17’ and 18’ male pole vaulters and the most 13’ and 14’ female pole vaulters. We also have scored more points at the NCAA Championships [193 points- including seven NCAA champions and six 2nd place finishes] than any other program in the country in the last 16 years. Last year, sophomore Mike Woepse finished second at NCAA Outdoor Championships and went on to finish sixth at the US Olympic Trials, recording a career best 18’2½”. Woepse’s mark is the all-time best mark for a sophomore at UCLA. On the women’s side, Allison Koressel (13’7”) and Natasha Kolbo (13’4.25”) both topped the 13’ mark to rank 8th and 9th all-time in UCLA history. In addition, six men’s vaulters and decathletes registered personal bests in the pole vault. The Bruin woman’s team recorded 8 personal bests with six pole vaulters registered marks over 13’1.”
As impressive as the above list is, Coach Curran kept going. He also tells us, “The Bruins have also had 11 Pac-10 champions in the pole vault over this span. Three of the last six UCLA conference champions have been walk-ons to our program (Greg Woepse-2001, Ingrid Kantola-2008 and Bobby Tally-2008). 16 men’s and women’s vaulters have been named All-Americans in that span. The Bruins have had two national collegiate record holders: Tracey O’Hara (14’7.25” on 4/22/00) and Chelsea Johnson (15’1” on 3/27/04). Johnson was also the first female collegiate pole vaulter to clear 15’. O’Hara was a 5-time NCAA champion in the vault. I have coached 25 of the men’s all-time top 30 best performances and all 30 on the women’s list.”
We next wanted to know what kind of staff Coach Curran works with. We know that he has been the coach for 30 years now, but he also says that, “Jack Hoyt was hired as the assistant head coach this year and helps run the jumps and heptathlon program as well as designing their workouts and recruiting. There are a total of 12 members of the UCLA track and field staff.”
So, what does the UCLA coaching staff look for when recruiting vaulters? “There are not any specific athletic requirements to try out for the UCLA team,” Coach Curran says, “but 13’ (female) and 16’6” (male) are heights I generally look for when recruiting an athlete. I am a firm believer in the development of athletes rather than strictly aiming for the nation’s or the world’s best. I take great pride in developing athletes.” He gives us these examples of successful vaulters he has helped develop: Katy Viuf (All-American- 4th at NCAA’s 2010 and 9th at 2012 Olympic Trials), Ingrid Kantola (heptathlete turned number 5 all-time vaulter at UCLA), Jay Borick (a 15’ vaulter turned 17’10.5” vaulter, ranking him 9th all-time in Bruins history) and Scott Slover (5-time All-American and number 2 all-time at UCLA at 18’71/4“).
Currently the team of Bruin vaulters consists of 16 pole vaulters, including three decathletes, four male vaulters and nine female vaulters, according to Coach Curran. The team is made up of: Mike Woepse (18’4½”), Mark Sakioka (16’9¼”), Scott Cook (16’9¼”), Connor Stark (16’6”), Colin Barber (16’6”), Marcus Nelsson (15’9”), Dominic Giovanoni (15’5”), Allison Koressel (14’11/2”), Natasha Kolbo (13’6”), Courtney Reginato (13’11/2”), Liz Goodrich (12’111/2”), Karlye Marshall (12’111/2”), Renee Greene (12’8”), Kayla Mallot (12’7”), Elena Clark (12’4”) and Sarah Greene (12‘).
“We have three runways and three pits, as well as a gymnastics facility on the track which includes 3 high bars, 3 sets of rings, monkey bars and two 20’ ropes. We also have an amazing gymnastics facility in the legendary John Wooden Center,” Coach Curran adds of their training facilities.
We asked about who is leading the vault team right now and Coach Curran says his captains are senior Allison Koressel and junior Mike Woepse. According to him, Koressel “recently set a personal best of 14’11/2” to place 5th and earned All-American honors at the NCAA Indoor Championships. Several weeks prior Koressel claimed the women’s pole vault title at MPSF Championships.” Coach Curran also says that, “Woepse also represented the Bruins last weekend at NCAA Indoor Championships, finishing seventh in the men’s pole vault final (18’0.5”). In 2012, Woepse claimed second in the Outdoor Championships. A week prior to his seventh place finish, Woepse competed at the USA Track and Field Championships and finished fourth in the final. He boasts a personal best of 18’4.5”.” Calling Woepse “a coach’s dream athlete”, it is clear that Coach Curran is happy with his leadership choices. He could not say enough about Woepse’s leadership and work ethic.
In addition to coaching history and team accomplishments and training, we asked Coach Curran to let us know about the division and competition for the Academy for the Bruins this school year. He says, “UCLA is in the Pac-12 Conference. It is considered to be one of the most competitive conferences for the pole vault in the country. Last year, Tori Anthony was unable to qualify for NCAAs despite a 13’ jump. Some of the girls from the east region made it in at 12’7”. This year, our biggest competition looks to come from Arizona State’s Shayla Sampson, a 14’ vaulter, as well as from the Sun Devils’ Derick Hinch who has already jumped 18’ during the indoor season. ASU Coach Ron Barella is a great coach and friend. I have a lot of respect for him and his athletes. We competed against each other in the 70’s and it’s great to be coaching against each other at our alma maters 30 years later.”
We also came across some additional interesting facts about this past year for the UCLA vaulters while talking to Coach Curran. He let us know that, “Our outdoor season is just getting started, but we had ten vaulters jump a personal record during the indoor season- that is a tremendous start for us. We are hoping for 8 Bruin vaulters to clear over 13’ this season, and possibly 3 over 17’. That would make it 11 NCAA regional qualifiers in the pole vault on one team. Let’s see if we can do it!”
The timing of the UCLA vaulting season is as follows (according to Coach Curran): “Athletes spend the summer cross training, and our program begins training each year toward the end of September. We train all nine months and start vaulting on the first day of practice.” And his vaulters better put vaulting first while training. Coach Curran says, “I believe pole vaulting is the most important part of training. Significant improvements are made while pole vaulting compared to those made in the gym, weight room or on the track. In my opinion, spending too much time in the weight room or on the track can beat you up. I prefer my athletes are fresh and pain free for vault practices. Running or lifting should be secondary. I hate when my athletes come out to practice and say, ‘I’m too sore to jump today, coach. We lifted too hard yesterday.’ I would rather them tell the weight coach, ‘I can’t lift today, coach. We vaulted too hard yesterday.’”
Taking time to have fun is also important to the Bruin vaulters. Coach Curran tells us, “Traditionally, the pole vault team has a water ski trip during the summer. For the past few years, the vaulters have gone to Lake Nacimiento and stayed at Allison Koressel’s house on the lake for a week. For many years, I held a surf contest for vaulters, and we would get vaulters from all over the country to come join us for a fun day of surfing and friendly competition. Some of the most memorable days with the teams were just hanging out at the beach surfing and later having barbecues and sing-a-longs on my front patio. Many of the vaulters of the past were great musicians.”
“Over time, I brought that surf mentality to the sport of pole vaulting. It’s definitely the cornerstone of my coaching philosophy today. I keep reminding my kids that they should only be doing it because it is fun. In my opinion, it is probably one of the reasons why we have had so much success at UCLA,” Coach Curran continues. He also works by these philosophies: “If you train hard and work smart, you will always improve. Don’t get me wrong, we train as hard as anyone in the country, but we also train smart and have a ton of fun doing it. Nothing is fulfilling unless you work hard for it. A quote I always tell my kids: ‘Once you think you got it, you don’t’.” His years of experience and the many successful vaulters to come out of his program back up the fact that this advice works.
The strong work ethic of Curran’s team, combined with time to have fun together, makes a great combination to keep the vaulters coming back as well. “All the UCLA alumni vaulters have helped out coaching at my clinics and during the summer at the UCLA summer camps,” says Coach Curran. “We are a family at UCLA so we all support each other.” We encourage our readers to look up the many successful alumni and elite vaulters that flock to UCLA to train as there are too many to mention.
Here are some words from two of the Bruin team’s vaulters to even further prove how they really are a family:
Chelsea Johnson says, “Words cannot express how thankful I am for the four years I spent at UCLA under the guidance of Coach Anthony Curran. Anthony instilled in me the importance of dedication to the vault, love for the school I was representing and, most importantly, the notion that I could exceed in the sport so long as I was having fun; which I certainly did while at UCLA. While a Bruin, I never competed for myself, I always competed as a member of a team that was striving to be great. We were a talented group of athletes that supported one another through the inevitable ups and downs of athletics. I will always be thankful for the on-track success I had as a Bruin, but it is the friendships that I made and the memories that we share which i am most grateful for.”
Mike Woepse says, “First off, I could not imagine competing for any other school than UCLA. The coaching staff and teammates that I have make me excited to go out and train every day. The coaches I have could not be more supportive and it starts at the top with coach Maynard, and the atmosphere he has created in our program. He sets up the most competitive schedules in the country for us and gives us the opportunity to excel at the highest level. Coach Hoyt has been a great addition to the staff as he has given us a different perspective on training and certain aspects of the jump. And on top of all that we have one of the greatest vault coaches in collegiate history. Coach Curran has set up an unbelievable environment to train in, and there is no one I would rather work with everyday. He has coached so many great vaulters that on any given day athletes such as Mike Tully, Yoo Kim, Scott Slover, Dustin DeLeo, Katy Viuf, Tory Anthony, Chelsea Johnson and Tory Pena are out at the UCLA track. Coach Curran has built a program based off success, but has done so with an aspect of fun that most programs do not have, and I believe it is what makes all his athletes, past and present, so close and keeps our alumni coming around. Lastly, I cannot say enough about my teammates, both men and women. Most of my success is because of them. We are all so supportive of each other and they push me every day at practice. I have been able to work with some great athletes, including my brother Greg, that have made my experience at UCLA so great. I really owe my teammates so much for everything they have done for me, and the support they have shown me the last three years. They are the unsung heroes. Overall, UCLA is a phenomenal place to train and live and I would not want to be anywhere else.”
For athletes interested in experiencing a glimpse of the UCLA Bruins’ vault training firsthand, Coach Curran wants you to know, “I am hosting The National Pole Vault Classic on June 29th in Redondo Beach, California. This will be a pole vault competition and vendor fair. I want to give every vaulter a chance to enjoy a day of pole vaulting outside of the regular season, with no pressure in this fun and exciting setting.” Maybe some future elite vaulters can be encouraged to carry on the Bruin legacy. See what it’s like to train with the Bruins at the UCLA Summer Track and Field / Pole Vault Camps. Sign up at www.uclabruins.com.
Thank you to Coach Curran and his vaulters for taking the time to share a part of your experience with us. We wish you many more years of high jumping.
By: Michelle Walthall – Vaulter Magazine LLC.