Olivia Gruver appeared unlikely to defend her title. After a successful indoor season that included 3 PRs, defending her outdoor title seemed like a reasonable goal for the Kentucky junior, but a fractured ankle at the start of the outdoor season set her back. The injury left the 20-year-old Wildcat unable to start her approach in her normal fashion: she had to adapt to a slower walking start. She competed only a few times outdoors, with results significantly below her best.
As the competition progressed, Gruver struggled. At her opening bar of 13-7¼ (4.15), her first two attempts were not close, and a no-height seemed like a real possibility as she attempted to become the first successful defender since Indiana State’s Kylie Hutson in ’10. But she rallied on her third attempt to stay in the competition.
Meanwhile, Indoor winner Lexi Jacobus of Arkansas was vaulting like there was no way she could lose. Despite swirling winds, the ’16 champion cleared 13-7¼, 14-1¼, 14-5¼, 14-7¼ and 14-9 (4.15, 4.30, 4.40, 4.45, 4.50) on her first attempts, with room to spare.
Gruver cleared 14-1¼ (4.30) on her first attempt but needed two tries each at 14-5¼, 14-7¼ and 14-9 (4.40, 4.45, 4.50). While none of her clearances were impressive, she slowly improved as the competition went on.
When the bar was raised to 14-11 (4.55), Gruver and Jacobus were the only vaulters remaining. Gruver was first in the order, and executed her best vault of the entire outdoor season, a nice clearance with plenty of air between herself and the bar. Jacobus was unable to leave 14-11 up on her first attempt, and chose to pass her next two attempts to 15-1 (4.60) as a second-attempt clearance at 14-11 would not improve her position.
But the bar wouldn’t stay up for Jacobus on her two attempts at 15-1 either. Gruver missed her first two attempts as well, and although she had one attempt remaining, she chose to stop jumping.
“It really calmed me down this year knowing that I can do it,” Gruver said. “Knowing that if I stayed calm and trusted myself everything would be fine. I started out the season with a fractured ankle, so it’s been more about keeping my mental game up, and that really helped in that moment of knowing that I had to clear that bar to win.”
With both being juniors, their exciting rivalry looks like it will continue next year. They may well have plenty of familiar company, as only 5 of the 24 finalists were seniors, the highest of them finishing 7th.
NCAA WOMEN’S POLE VAULT RESULTS
1. *Olivia Gruver (Ky) 14-11 (4.55) out PR
(3, =6 NCAA) (also 14-9/4.50—x, =9 NCAA);
2. *Lexi Jacobus (Ar) 14-9 (4.50) (x, =9 NCAA);
3. ***Lisa Gunnarsson’ (VaT) 14-5¼ (4.40);
=4. ***Rachel Baxter (VaT) 14-1¼ (4.30);
=4. *Bridget Guy (Va) 14-1¼;
6. *Lucy Bryan’ (Akr) 14-1¼;
7. Taylor Amann (Wi) 14-1¼;
8. *Maddie Gardner (WV) 14-1¼;
=9. **Helen Falda’ (SD) 14-1¼;
=9. Kally Long (Tx) 14-1¼;
11. *Lauren Martinez (Cal) 14-1¼ =PR;
=12. **Kristen Denk (Vand) 13-7¼ (4.15);
=12. *Tori Hoggard (Ar) 13-7¼;
=12. **Erika Malaspina (Stan) 13-7¼;
15. **Laura Marty (Duke) 13-7¼;
=16. ***Gabriela Leon (Louisv) 13-7¼;
=16. *Lindsey Murray (Ms) 13-7¼;
=18. ***Sophia Franklin (MiSt) 13-1½ (4.00);
=18. Britainy Smith (Al) 13-1½;
=18. **Andrea Willis (Ks) 13-1½;
21. *Kathryn Tomczak (AF) 13-1½;
… nh—Hannah McWilliams (AMCC), **Kaitlyn Merritt (Stan),*Rylee Robinson (Ar).
(best-ever mark-for-NCAA-place: 8–9) □