By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
Sam Kendricks hopes 19 feet is the new normal.
Because he’s not sure that it is, neither he nor Ole Miss track coach Brian O’Neal are taking anything for granted in the SEC championships, scheduled for May 9-12 in Columbia, Mo.
Kendricks, a sophomore pole vaulter, cleared 19-0.75 at the Texas Relays on March 29, this season’s leading world jump to date.
“I have a really high jump, but can I do it again? That’s the question. Can I do it on the day?” he asked rhetorically.
Tennessee’s Jake Blankenship and Arkansas’ Andrew Irwin have both cleared at least 18-4.
The difference may be the ease with which Kendricks reaches the 18 mark these days. He has hit 18 or better nine times this season, more than anyone else in the NCAA.
Eighteen is his current normal.
“Now if I don’t jump 18 feet, honestly, I’m unhappy, because I don’t think I represented or jumped my best. I just have those means,” Kendricks says.
Others in the conference have the means to knock off Kendricks if he’s not on top of his game, he says.
O’Neal is counting on Kendricks for points but not Kendricks’ alone. Sprinter Isiah Young, a London Olympian last summer, is back and was named the most outstanding collegiate performer at the Drake Relays last weekend when he set a school record with a 10.07 time in the 100 meters.
O’Neal, a Pontotoc native and the Rebels’ first-year coach, says no event in the SECs is locked in advance.
“That is definitely something that we don’t take lightly. Sam is going to go in there fully equipped, fully prepared to be at his best on that day,” he said.
Kendricks at his best creates exciting possibilities.
As a freshman he won the pole vault five times in 10 outdoor meets. His vault of 18-0.5 was a second-place score at the SEC meet when he became the first Ole Miss vaulter to clear 18 feet.
Now he has an 18-foot comfort zone largely by being an aggressive goal-setter.
history of success
That’s not a recent development. An Oxford native, Kendricks was a young member of the Oxford High program coached by his father, Scott Kendricks, when Sam set out to break the OHS pole vault record of 13-6 by his sophomore season. Scott Kendricks remains his son’s coach in a volunteer position at Ole Miss.
Sam Kendricks accomplished his OHS record-breaking goal and finished high school with a best jump of 15-4.
Goals are bigger now. Kendricks’ caused O’Neal to take a step back when they visited shortly after O’Neal’s hiring last June.
“He came in immediately and said the goal is 19 feet. I immediately said, ‘Well if the goal is 19 feet, that means you’ve got to get faster and stronger and mentally prepare yourself to push yourself to extremely high heights,’” O’Neal said.
Nineteen may be the next normal. So far this season Kendricks has been up to the mental challenge.
The technique work has focused on Kendricks’ launch from the top of the pole, being able to jump above his hands when he runs out of pole.
“When the pole runs out at 17 feet, and you still want to jump 19 and change, you’ve got to jump above the top of that pole. And now we can do it with regularity,” he said. “Being able to do that is what sets you a part as a world class jumper.”
And perhaps as an SEC champion.