Some call it a clique and the extremely jealous even go as far as calling it a cult.
And those being singled out don’t seem to mind one bit.
“You have to be fast and a little bit crazy,” Desert Vista senior pole vaulter Matt Arsenau said. “If you are willing to try and willing to completely trust the coach you are going to be successful.
“When you think about it you are running as fast as you can with a pole and you are about to go as high as you can in the air. Everyone has seen some people fall off onto the runway and hurt themselves. You have to overcome that and just go for it. It takes a lot of nerve at first but after awhile it is just what we do. It’s kind of like a club.”
At most schools, the pole vaulters on track teams do their own thing throughout the week and at meets they sequester themselves as the pole vaulters from each school come together in a group as they put up tents around the runway.
“There might as well be a hibachi (grill) there,” Desert Vista pole vault coach Jeff Guy said.
At Desert Vista the pole vaulters start each practice at their own little space under the stadium bleachers and Guy puts them through event specific warm up drill using bands and other specialized equipment.
Secluded, specialized and single-minded seems to work well for the Thunder.
A few years ago it was the girl vaulters who had six individuals finish in the top eight at state in 2010 and this year the boys have eight individuals clear 14 feet or higher.
“It reminds me of that year,” Guy said. “We have a lot of depth just like a few years ago with the girls. On any given day, anyone of them could be higher than the other.”
The boys squad is led by junior Scott Marshall and Arsenau, both of whom cleared 15 feet, 6-inches against Brophy at a dual meet early in the year. It is the state’s second best effort this season behind the mark of 16 feet by defending state champion Garrett Starkey of Basha.
They both reached 15 feet recently at the Arcadia Invitational in California with hopes that performing well at a national meet will stir the competitive juices and get them to approach season-best vaults the rest of the way.
“There was an atmosphere there that got you going a little bit,” Marshall said. “You are nervous your first couple of jumps but you get over it. I think if I keep building off of it I can be ready to compete against anyone at state.”
One of those should be Arsenau, who is one of three seniors competing at this week’s All-Tempe City meet at Desert Vista.
“I don’t worry about winning (meets) right now,” he said. “I just want to fine tune, reach a good height and be ready to compete at state.”
Other top vaulters are senior Aidan Foster (14-6), junior Jon Giles (14-6), senior Tommy Kennedy (14-6), junior Justin Tobin (14-3.25), junior Kyle Bodnicki (14-0) and junior Adam Puchi (14-0). On the girls side of things, freshman Vanessa Davis broke the freshman state record with a 12-0.25 effort.
“We’ve had some younger kids really improving by 2 feet,” Guy said. “We are going to have a hard time deciding who to enter at state.”
A prime example of how good the Thunder vaulters are is the fact that Puchi finished third at state last season, but currently has six teammates ahead of him.
“The coaching and the environment forces you to excel,” Marshall said. “We are all pushing each other to get better.”
Guy said having so many good vaulters is both a luxury and a curse. Sure, there is some competition within the program, but at the same time only so many competitors can be entered into invitationals.
“It means deciding who competes and who sits out,” Guy said. “It can be a deterrent as well just because you don’t get as many in a meet situation to experience that pressure. You still have to play the game of holding this group out and putting this group in. It ends up putting on some pressure because it might be their only meet.”
The three seniors will compete in the City meet and then everyone will get a chance to compete in the Last Chance meet on May 4.
Once the state meet rolls around, Guy said the focus won’t be on winning an individual state title but clearing the highest mark of their careers.
“We don’t talk about winning state,” he said. “If they PR at state but don’t win how could that be considered a failure?”
And should an individual have a bad day at least he or she will be surrounded by people who know exactly what they are going through.
That’s what a cult-like environment is for, right?
“We have done better job communicating with the rest of the team compared to other years,” Arsenau said, “but I’m perfectly fine just being with the vaulters.”
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.