|Track and field goes big at Cougar Indoor|
PULLMAN, Wash. - After he and two teammates broke the Idaho men's pole vault record last weekend in the team's opener, Idaho senior Lucas Pope boldly proclaimed it "just the beginning for this season."
Less than a week later, Pope made that a reality as he became the first Vandal to clear 17 feet indoors in the pole vault and led a strong Idaho surge at the Cougar Indoor Invitational on Friday and Saturday at Washington State.
Six Vandals walked away as event champions for the weekend, but none had a better time than Pope, who won the men's pole vault with a meet-record, school-record and NCAA provisional-qualifying height of 5.27m (17-3.5). Pope struggled in his first two attempts at the minimum provisional height of 17-0.75, but nailed on his last try, and then stormed right back and hit 17-3.5 on his very first attempt to put him in a tie for 14th nationally in the event.
"For Lucas Pope, we've been waiting to hit that 17-foot mark in competition for a year and a half," Idaho vaults coach Jason Graham said. "He's done it in practice, but he's never been able to break it out in competition, and that's what was so exciting."
Pope said that the mental barrier was almost as difficult as the physical one in breaking through with the big jump. He and Graham agreed that breaking through the 17-foot barrier could also act as a catalyst for even bigger jumps in the near future.
"I was trying to get it through my head that it's possible to get over 17 feet," Pope said. "It's been a long time coming for me.
"I think I still have a little left in me for this season. I'd like to get up in the mid-17 range - 17-6 is a good, round number."
Senior thrower Mykael Bothum also had a strong competition, as she blew away the field in the women's shot put with a season-best toss of 16.08m (52-9.25). That throw is the best in the Western Athletic Conference by a seven-foot margin and puts her at 10th in the NCAA in the event.
Junior thrower Eugenio Mannucci left out the dramatics of last week's competition and powered his way to a first-place finish in the men's shot put with a toss of 16.63m (54-6.75), while seniors Ben Wood and Beau Whitney went neck-and-neck in the men's weight throw. Wood launched the 35-pound implement 18.21m (59-9) to barely edge Whitney, who hit a personal-best 18.20m (59-8.5).
On the track, junior Paul Dittmer ran his first hurdle race of the year and came out with a win after running an 8.06 in the final of the 60-meter event. He also had the top time of 8.04 in the preliminary round. Fellow junior Maurice Shaw, fresh off his breakout season as a receiver for the football team, opened his year with an 8.31 in the event and a third-place finish.
Senior K.C. Dahlgren was Idaho's sixth event winner, as she cleared 3.90m (12-9.5) in the women's pole vault to win the event for a second-straight weekend at WSU.
The Vandals got other solid performances over the weekend by junior Andrew Blaser, who took second in the men's heptathlon with a score of 4,964, senior Jonathan Marler, who cleared a personal-best 1.99m (6-6.25) in the high jump, freshman Kelly Jacka, who won her heat and finished second overall in the 200m with a time of 25.42, and sophomore Lauren Schaffer, who took second in the women's 800m with a time of 2:16.22 in her season-opening race.
In the team scoring portion of the meet, Idaho's men went 5-1, while the women went 3-2-1. The men's team beat Utah State, Eastern Washington, Montana, Whitworth, and Community Colleges of Spokane and lost to Washington State, while the women's team beat EWU, Whitworth and CCS, tied Montana, and lost to USU and WSU.
"The neat thing of the scoring meets is that they inherently increase the level of competition for everyone," Idaho co-head coach Wayne Phipps said. "That's one thing that I thought we did really well, whether we were competing for first or second, or third or fourth.
"We had some new people who competed at a very high level this weekend and got them some great experience. We gave them a chance to compete against a Pac-10 school, a conference rival and some good area schools, and I think that's going to benefit them in a big way."
For a handful of competitors, next weekend's action will be at Seattle at the UW Invitational on Friday and Saturday. The rest of the team will train through the weekend and prepare for Idaho's 35th annual Vandal Indoor on Feb. 5 and the Runner's Soul Open on Feb. 6.