At the 2011 Indoor Heptagonal Track and Field Championships two years ago, the Elis did not score a single point in either the men’s or women’s pole vault. A single freshman, Emily Urciuoli ’14, was the only competitor in the event for the Bulldogs — the men’s squad did not send a pole-vaulter to compete at the Ivy championships. Both Yale squads struggled to last-place finishes overall.
The team results at the 2013 Heps on Saturday and Sunday do not show much overall improvement from the Bulldogs. The men finished last, while the women placed seventh out of eight teams. But in a season that has featured few promising moments from the Elis, the pole-vaulters, an oft-forgotten category of track athletes, have provided glimmers of hope.
Vaulters Paul Chandler ’14 and Brendan Sullivan ’16 accounted for more than a third of the men’s team’s 15.5 points, with 5.5 between them this past weekend. While Urciuoli did not score for the women’s team, she won the pole vault at a number of other meets this season, including the Giegengack Invitational and the Yale-Columbia-Dartmouth tri-meet.
“Track and field is definitely an individual sport. At the end of the day, it’s you who’s scoring the points,” Urciuoli said. “But at the same time it’s also a very mental sport, so I think having other people around you helps you relax.”
Urciuoli did not have the benefit of having another pole-vaulter to help her with the mental aspect of the sport her freshman year. While she and Chandler entered school the same year, Chandler redshirted his first year due to injury. Urciuoli recalled feeling nervous and unconfident during freshman year.
Furthermore, while the Bulldog track and field athletes in other disciplines — distance, sprinting and throwing — have assistant coaches to train them, Yale does not have a jumping coach on staff. The director of the track and field program, David Shoehalter, works with the vaulters for an hour before each practice. Still, the small group of vaulters, including Chandler, Sullivan, Urciuoli, Catherine Shih ’15 and Renee Vogel ’16, rely on one another for improvement.
“Pole-vaulting is a very technical event,” Chandler said. “There’s a lot of discrete elements you can kind of put together in order to be an efficient, good vaulter … You really kind of need a lot of assistance among your teammates.”
The vaulters from both the men’s and women’s team work out together in practice. Urciuoli said collaboration among the athletes is important for their success despite the ultimate individual nature of the sports.
Although Urciuoli and Chandler did not have the advantage of having older vaulters as mentors during their first years here, they worked together closely after Chandler returned from injury. Now, the two juniors continue to collaborate on how to improve their training in terms of workouts on the track and while vaulting. But the two upperclassmen also play a role in supporting the younger members of the squad.
“I’m probably closest with Paul on the team,” Sullivan said. “[The upperclassmen are] very good at helping me out.”
While team members have different individual goals for the rest of the season — Urciuoli wants to earn a spot on the podium at the outdoor Heps, Chandler will look to qualify for an NCAA regional meet and Sullivan will try to earn at spot at the outdoor Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America competition — there is no doubt that the increased size of the squad and the nature of the team has led to its success.
The men’s and women’s track and field teams will continue their seasons next weekend at the ECAC championships at Boston University.