Corey Sledge collected on Saturday what eluded him three months earlier — a national championship.
The Eastern Oregon University sophomore won the national title in the men’s pole vault during the final day of the NAIA National Championship meet in Gulf Shores, Alabama. According to the EOU website, it’s the first title won by EOU in the men’s pole vault in eight years, with the last coming from Robbie Haynie in 2011.
“That’s what I’ve worked for all year,” Sledge said. “I fell short of it during indoors, came up with fourth place, so it was nice to have a great day during the outdoor championships and take it.”
Sledge, who credited pole vault coach Bob Heitstuman for helping and motivating him, held off Jordan Downs of Bethel for the championship, clearing a final height of 16 feet 8-3/4 inches, which is his personal best.
He said one thing that made a difference in his outdoor win was being able to practice a full eight-step approach on the outdoor track during the spring. He didn’t have this opportunity during the indoor season, because EOU’s current indoor setup allows for only a six-step approach.
“It’s really hard to transition from doing one thing (during practice) all (of the) indoor (season) to moving back to something you haven’t practiced,” Sledge said, adding he was also able to “fix a few things” in the technical aspect of the jump. “(The extra approach) was the biggest factor in how high I jumped and how well I jumped.”
EOU head coach Ben Welch agreed that being outdoors made a difference for the sophomore.
“A lot of it was just being able to get outside and get full approaches,” he said. “He came into his own.”
But even with the title, Sledge will have plenty of motivation headed into next year. He missed the height he ultimately wanted to reach this season — 17 feet — which he believes he can get early next season.
“I think it is possible I can get 17 during indoor. Outdoor I would like to jump 5.35 meters (17 feet 6-1/2),” he said.
Sledge wasn’t the only EOU athlete to finish the season strong, as two additional individuals and a relay team grabbed all-American recognition Friday and Saturday to go along with the two all-American nods earned on Thursday.
The highest placing aside from Sledge’s championship Friday and Saturday was a fifth-place finish by the women’s 4x800 relay team. The squad of Katie Jo Gebhardt, Michelle Herbes, Faith Homer and Megan Boals finished the race in 9:13.82, marking the third time this spring the group broke the program record in the event.
“They ran that thing three times this year and set the record three times. With two freshmen, a sophomore and a senior, that’s impressive,” Welch said. “They had a lot of poise.”
Lane Inwards staged a major rally in the final race of his career to garner an all-American nod, charging from 11th place midway through the final lap of the men’s 1,500 to finish in sixth in 3:56.64.
“A wonderful way for an extremely hardworking young man who had brought a lot to the program to end his career,” Welch said.
Paige Dodd finished as an all-American in the women’s heptathlon, coming in eighth place with a score of 4,658 points. After scoring 2,879 points during the first day Thursday, she finished with a mark of 16 feet 8 in the long jump, a throw of 96 feet 11 in the javelin and a time of 2:27.11 in the 800.
Olivia Lane came away in 12th in the heptathlon with 4,402 points. Lane, who had 2,613 points through the first day, turned in a mark of 15 feet 5 in the long jump, posted a throw of 101 feet 8 in the javelin, then finished with a second-place showing in the 800 in a time of 2:20.65, missing first place by just 0.01 seconds.
Darrian Walker just missed on giving EOU two all-Americans in the men’s pole vault, as he finished in ninth with a mark of 15 feet 7, while Maggie Ledbetter was 15th in the women’s discus with a throw of 133 feet 1. The EOU women’s 4x400 relay team of Lane, Boals, Michelle Herbes and Elizabeth Herbes finished 20th in the preliminary race with a time of 3:56.25. And Kalulusno Ngaida finished 24th in the women’s high jump at 5 feet 2-1/2 and 28th in the triple jump at 36 feet 5.