The pole vault has been a coaching specialty for Grand Haven’s Joe Nelson for several years. His pupils this spring are now starting to reap the rewards in competition.
The Bucs had two state qualifiers and nearly three at Friday’s Division 1 regional meet at Buccaneer Stadium.
In the boys’ competition, junior Brandt Gruizinga punched his ticket to the Division 1 state finals after he cleared 12 feet, 6 inches. His teammate, Austin Schild, also cleared 12-6, but took an extra attempt to clear the distance, thus eliminating him from state finals contention.
“The qualifier (for the state meet) was 12-10, but Brandt got in because he finished in the top two,” explained Nelson. “Austin basically came up short by a miss. It’s too bad for him, but he had a great effort.”
Kenowa Hills’ Dyland Kole won the pole vault with an effort of 13-1.
Gruizinga was disappointed by his performance, but a tough cross wind made turning in a personal best difficult. He’s topped out at 13-6 this season and with a new pole to be worked into the mix, he said he expects to clear at least another foot at the state finals.
“The wind made it really tough today. You had to stay strong,” he said. “As long as I can work with the new pole, I’m thinking I can get 14-6, or I may be able to push up even further. I would think that would place me second or third in the state.”
Gruizinga said it took him some time to find his calling in the event, since as a first-time track athlete last season, coaches had him competing in as many as seven different events because of his speed and jumping ability.
When they discovered his skill in the pole vault, however, it was a perfect match.
“We saw the potential he had,” Nelson said. “Brandt is just so athletic and he has a lot of courage and that’s the two most important things you need.”
Grand Haven senior Grace Kendra also qualified for the state finals in the event, despite battling through a quad injury. The sore muscle limited her to a 10-7 vault, and also knocked her down to third in her other strong event — the long jump.
Head coach John Tarr also later pulled her from relay competition.
Grand Haven’s other state qualifier was senior Justin Pippel, who placed third in the 3,200 run.
“He had a great race,” Nelson said. “He’s now just seven seconds away from the school record.”