Close vault trio headed to NCAAs

May 23, 2018

NCAA East Regional Live Results

Competing in an event regarded among track and field's most individualistic disciplines, Vanderbilt pole vaulters Kristen Denk, Caleigh Lofstead and Margaret Ollinger have developed into a tight-knit unit.

Their mutual encouragement and support has created one of the deepest vault corps in Vanderbilt's history.

For the first time ever, Vanderbilt has three vaulters competing at the NCAA East Regionals, which start this Thursday in Tampa, Fla.

The vaulters have put together stellar campaigns entering NCAA competition. In the last six weeks, each has posted a collegiate personal-best, led by Denk's school-record clearance of 14-1.25 (4.30 meters).

Ollinger, from Fairhope, Ala., and Lofstead, from Camas, Wash., believe the time together, on and off the track, has helped their vault performances.

"We practice together and always cheer for each other, creating a lot of positive energy. That really helps when you're competing," Ollinger said.

"We only want the best for each other, and it's been a lot of fun just hanging out with Kristen and Margaret," Lofstead added.

Denk, who performed at the NCAA Regionals as a freshman at the University of Tennessee before transferring to Vanderbilt, says having vault teammates has enhanced her results.

"Being around other vaulters has been beneficial. It means a great deal to be with Caleigh and Margaret," Denk said. "It's been a huge help for me, with my practice, motivation and confidence."

The three vaulters, along with 2017 All-American and recent graduate Sarah Bell and others, were recruited to West End by Commodore assistant coach Clark Humphreys, the 1997 outdoor national champion who has built the Vanderbilt vault program.

"Sarah was having success here, so I knew Coach Humphreys could do a great job developing quality vaulters," Lofstead said. "Sarah kind of laid the foundation, and we want to continue growing the program. Hopefully, the better we do, the more high-level girls will want to come to Vanderbilt."

Denk has replaced Bell as the Commodores' top vaulter. A product of North Royalton, Ohio, Denk ranks 14th in the NCAA with a clearance of 4.30 meters (14-1.25). That jump, coming at the Tennessee Relays on April 12 in Knoxville, eclipsed Bell's school record. Denk enters NCAA Regionals in excellent form. In her last meet, she cleared 4.25 meters (13-11.25) to claim fifth place at the Southeastern Conference Championship. She also had a near-miss at 4.35 meters (14-3.25) at the meet.

"I had a goal of (clearing) 14 feet for the last three years," Denk said. "I'm happy to reach it, but I go can higher, just like Caleigh and Margaret can go higher."

To repeat Bell's 2017 All-America campaign, Denk, Lofstead and Ollinger will need to finish among the top 12 vaulters in Tampa to advance to the national championship. Humphreys likes how his vault trio is preparing for the meet.

"They're a fun group to train and be around. They push and support each other in a very positive manner," Humphreys said. "I feel like our training is right where it needs to be, so I'm excited to see how they compete."

Clayton, Bustamante and Edobi also competing in Tampa

Three more Vanderbilt standouts -- Courtney Clayton, Jenn Edobi and Reagan Bustamante - will join the vaulters in Tampa intent on advancing to Eugene.  They will compete in running events Thursday evening at the University of South Florida facility.

Clayton, a fifth-year senior from Roscoe, Ill., is one of the top middle distance runners in program history and looks to earn back-to-back All-American honors. Clayton enters the regionals in her best form of the season, coming off a fourth-place finish in the 800-meter run at the SEC Championship.

Last May, Clayton advanced out of the regionals with an impressive 2:04.15 performance. She came back at the national championships with a school-record 2:04.02 to claim seventh place.

Bustamante, the team's top middle distance runner for much of the campaign, will join Clayton in the 800. Bustamante, a sophomore from Springfield, Va., owns the team's top performance at the distance this year, a 2:06.22 at the Duke Invitational in late April.

Like Clayton and Bustamante, Edobi is making a repeat visit to the NCAA Regionals. The redshirt junior from Union, N.J. will compete in the 400-meter dash where she owns a season-best of 53.33. In 2017, Ebodi became the second fastest Commodore ever at 400 meters at this meet, blazing a 52.75 to earn 15th place.

Advancing to the NCAA Championships

All six Vanderbilt athletes have the same goal in Tampa -- to advance to the NCAA Championships, scheduled June 6-9 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. To qualify for Eugene, the Commodores must finish among the top 12 in their respective competitions.

The schedule of events for Vanderbilt athletes follows:

Thursday, May 24
 2:45 p.m. -- Jenn Edobi (400 meters)
 3:35 p.m. -- Reagan Bustamante, Courtney Clayton (800 meters)

Friday, May 25
 8:30 a.m. -- Kristen Denk, Caleigh Lofstead, Margaret Ollinger (pole vault)
 12:45 p.m. -- 400-meter finals TBA
 1:45 p.m. -- 800-meter finals TBA
All times Central



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