Virginia Tech: Turning Out Champions in Vaulting and in Life

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If this year is anything like last year, 2013 looks hopeful for the vaulters of Virginia Tech, formally known as Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, in Blacksburg, Virginia.  “In 2012 VT women swept the Indoor ACC Championships with jumps of 14’1¾”, 14’1¾” and 13’5¾”, and VT men swept the Outdoor ACC Championships with jumps of 17’8½”, 17’4½” and 17’4½”,” says Assistant Track & Field Coach, Bob Phillips.  Doing this well is nothing new for the VT Hokies.  Coach Phillips also tells us, “We have competed in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the last eight years.  During that time Hokie vaulters have earned nineteen gold, twelve silver, and nine bronze medals and scored almost 500 points at Conference Championship.”

There is no shortage of talent on the Virginia Tech vault team.  Coach Phillips gave us the scoop on his top vaulters this year:  “Our senior leader on the women’s side is Leigh Allin, who will be returning next year for graduate school, with one year of eligibility remaining.  Also leading the women this year is Martina Schultze, who was
the ACC Outdoor Champion last year and finished 7th at the NCAA Indoor Championships.  Martina has a personal best of 14’5″.  On the men’s side, junior Stephan Munz (17’10”) and sophomore Chris Uhle (16′ 9″) are our top returnees.”

“We generally carry about ten vaulters (5 men and 5 women),” Coach Phillips continues.  “…although this year we have four men and six women.  We do a lot of gymnastics training in addition to our track and weight room workouts.  We pride ourselves on vaulter development.  In just the last eight years VT has qualified a vaulter to the NCAA National Championships thirty-six times where they have earned twenty-two All-American honors.”

Of course with the talent comes great coaching as well.  The vaulters at VT are fortunate to learn from a great team of coaches.  Coach Phillips tells us, “We have six track coaches at VT, plus several volunteer coaches.  In addition to me, we have three volunteer coaches assisting this year with the pole vault.  Joe Davis, who is also working with our decathletes, is a two-time NCAA All-American with a 17’8.5″ personal best.  Hunter Hall is a five-time All-American with a 17’9.25″ personal best.  Kelly Phillips is a two-time All-American with a 14’1.25″ personal best.”

Coach Phillips himself has many years of experience, and is an alumnus of Virginia Tech who is definitely enriching the vaulting program.  He says this of his coaching experience and career:  “I vaulted for Virginia Tech from 1977 to 1981.  I jumped 5.27 in college, but my PR is 5.50 from 1984.  I have been the vault coach at Virginia Tech since I graduated.  I love the event and enjoy speaking and teaching about the vault.  After working camps for many years, this past year I directed VT’s first pole vault camp.”

Other components that add to the success of the Hokie vaulters are the facilities and the training time, which Coach Phillips is very happy with.  “The facilities at Virginia Tech are outstanding,” he says.  “…with both a 200m banked indoor track and a 400m outdoor track.  We have pits indoors and out so we can decide each day where we want to jump.  Additional facilities and equipment include a gymnastics room, weight room, cardio room and over a hundred poles…We start each year with a lot of basic conditioning, but also start right away with optional vault sessions so that we can make technical changes in time for the indoor season.  In the off-season the vaulters here are particularly fond of rock climbing.”

In addition to their training, the VT vaulting team has a lot of fun as well.  “Cook outs, movie night, camping, rock climbing and hiking (OK… and shopping, the girls tell me) are the main things that the vaulters here do together outside of practice to have fun,” Coach Phillips says.  “There are some beautiful trails in the area and many thousands of acres of national forest.  But whether it is an obstacle course in the gymnastics room, the pole vault then football catch or the spectacle that is our annual alumni vault we try to have fun with the event.”

An extensive list of successful Virginia Tech alumni is further proof that their vaulting program is one of the best.  While talking with us Coach Phillips had a hard time leaving anything out when talking about his former vaulters and their accomplishments.  This is what he had to say:  “We have had many exceptional graduates at VT so it is hard to talk about only some.  Brian Mondschein was a three-time All-American and NCAA silver medalist from Pennsylvania who jumped 18’2” as a senior and went on to jump 18’6” as a post collegiate.  Brian earned an undergraduate and master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Virginia Tech and is currently living and training in Jonesboro, Arkansas.”

“…Jenia Olhovsky earned his bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech in Economics.  Jenia was a seven-time All-American and twice NCAA silver medalist.  Jenia has a personal best of 18’3” which is our current indoor school record.  He is now living back in his native Israel.”

“…Hunter Hall was a five time All-American who graduated with a degree in communications with a specialization in videography.  He works in that area now and is also helping coach this year.”

“…Joe Samaniuk earned a bachelor and master’s degree in chemical engineering while at VT and was an NCAA Academic All-American.  He improved from 14’ to 17’5” while an undergraduate and went on to jump 17’11 ¾” while in graduate school.  He completed his Ph.D. at Wisconsin this past May and spent the next several months walking the entire Appalachian Trail.  He leaves this month for Belgium where he has accepted a post-doctorate position.”

“…Adam Bingaman transferred to Virginia Tech from Syracuse but completed undergraduate and graduate degrees at VT in electrical and computer engineering.  He jumped 17’4” while a graduate student at VT.  He works as an engineer in Northern Virginia and is married to a veterinarian, Abby McGrath Bingaman who was a converted 800m runner who jumped 13’ for us during her career.”

“…Joe Davis was a two-time NCAA All-American who now coaches our multi-event athletes as well as helping with the other jumping events.  Joe plans to coach as a career and will do an excellent job.”

“…Jared Jodon was also and NCAA All-American and ACC Conference Champion who is now training in Atlanta where he attends chiropractic school.”

“…Erin Mahony was a two-time NCAA East Region Champion and two-time ACC Champion who earned her bachelor’s degree in industrial and systems engineering and then her MBA.  She had a 9’ high school PR, but was the first VT women to jump 13’.  She now works in Northern Virginia.”

“Kelly Phillips, my daughter, was a gymnast in high school who converted to the pole vault when she started college.  Kelly was a two-time NCAA All-American, a several time NCAA Academic All-American, a two-time ACC Conference Champion and the first women at VT to jump 14’.”

“…I am also incredibly proud of Ashley Early who is now a nurse in the Richmond area.  She was an ACC Conference Champion and NCAA Qualifier as a freshman with great potential but was not able to continue her vault career due to a back problem.”

“…I am also very proud of Brian Hunter who was at VT for three years where he improved from 15’6” to 18’2”, won a junior national championship and was an NCAA All-American and bronze medalist.  Brian went on to win an NCAA championship at Texas.  His bachelor’s degree was in chemical engineering and he worked in the semi-conductor area for IBM and Micron Systems before accepting a job this past year as jumps and sprints coach at the college of William and Mary.”
With all the success and amazing pole vaulting alumi, it is no wonder Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University has made a name for itself.  However, another great thing about Coach Phillips, and the VT pole vault program, is that they have a broad outlook when choosing vaulters.  It’s not just about athletics for Virginia Tech; it’s about the whole athlete and their future.  Coach Phillips says, “We are interested in anyone that is a good athlete.  How high you have jumped is not the most important factor.  After graduating from Virginia Tech, our vaulters have gone on to many careers:  lawyer, doctor, veterinarian, engineer, marine biologist, coach and many others.  Quite a few have gone on to graduate school, with most of those continuing to pole vault while working on their graduate degrees.”  It looks like this school, along with Coach Phillips and his team, has the right idea.  Keep up the good work Hokies.

By:  Michelle Walthall – Vaulter Magazine

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