Vols, Lady Vols continue pole-vault success at Sea Ray Relays

Pole vaulters still a force for Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, TN -APRIL 12, 2013: Erin Champion during the pole vault of the 47th annual Sea Ray Relays at LaPorte Stadium and the Tom Black Track in Knoxville, TN. Photo by Whitney Carter/Tennessee Athletics

Photo by Whitney Carter/Tennessee Athleti, University of Tennessee Athletics

KNOXVILLE, TN -APRIL 12, 2013: Erin Champion during the pole vault of the 47th annual Sea Ray Relays at LaPorte Stadium and the Tom Black Track in Knoxville, TN. Photo by Whitney Carter/Tennessee Athletics

Through ups and downs, Tennessee’s track and field program can still be counted on in an event that is all about going up and down.

Preferably, up, over the bar and down.

The pole vault is as fickle and difficult as an event as any in the sport. That’s exactly why junior Linda Hadfield likes it so much.

“It drives you crazy,’’ Hadfield said on a sunny Friday afternoon at Tom Black Track. “You always end on a missed bar so you always want to keep going.

“It’s frustrating, but there’s nothing like when you do hit that mark of success, the feeling of clearing a bar and falling back into the pit. There’s nothing like that feeling.’’

Hadfield enjoyed that feeling Friday at the Sea Ray Relays before bowing out with three misses at 13 feet, 5.5 inches.

Her clearance at 13-1.5 got her fourth place.

Erin Champion, a redshirt freshman from Clinton High School, also cleared 13-1.5, a personal-best good for No. 5 on the school outdoor chart.

“It’s been a long time coming,’’ Champion said. “I’ve been jumping bungees that are equal to that height. I just haven’t been able to put it together in a meet. Today I finally did.’’

Alysha Newman of Eastern Michigan won the event at 13-9.25. That’s the neighborhood Champion would love to be in later in the outdoor season.

This is still the transitional period from indoors to outdoors. Hadfield had a terrific indoor campaign, breaking the UT indoor record at 13-11.

“Indoors to outdoors is a big difference,’’ said Lady Vols volunteer coach David Job. “Today was a good day. We were able to conquer the demons and make some progress.’’

UT vaulters have been conquering those demons for years.

Job, an Oak Ridger and UT vaulter in the 1960s, is in his 11th year as a volunteer coach for the women. Russ Johnson, who hit No. 2 on UT’s vaulting chart in 1998, is in his seventh year as volunteer coach for the men. His athletes have won 10 SEC titles.

Saturday at 2 p.m., the next rising star in the tradition will be in the air. Freshman Jake Blankenship has cleared 18-4, indoors and outdoors.

Blankenship will be joined by Chase Brannon, a junior who has finished at least fourth in the past three SEC meets.

Tennessee holds the distinction of producing an Olympic silver medal — Lawrence Johnson — in 2000 and a gold medal — Tim Mack — in 2004.

Vaulting isn’t for everyone. Hadfield and Champion both had backgrounds in gymnastics.

Hadfield wears a knee brace due to ACL surgery — field hockey, not vaulting. Champion has avoided injury thus far. But the risk of being upside down, 13 feet in the air is part of the attraction.

“I love the adrenaline rush,’’ she said. “And a little bit of the fear factor.’’

Hoty Wins Shot Put: Sophomore Matt Hoty’s final try produced a winner in the shot put and a PR at 62 feet, 8.75 inches. That puts Hoty fourth on the UT all-time chart and makes him only UT’s second Sea Ray shot put winner ever.

Showcase: A seven-event Showcase window begins at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. UT qualified two men and two women Friday for both the Showcase 100 and 200.

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