The University of Washington has a great tradition in the vault, dating back to Brian Sternberg in the ’60s all the way up to American Record setter Brad Walker, along with recent grads like Kate Soma, Scott Roth and Jax Thoirs.
The Husky legacy in the event has been enhanced with the transfer of 2-time NCAA outdoor champion Olivia Gruver, who came to Seattle to follow her Kentucky mentor Toby Stevenson after he was named associate head coach of the UW program. The transition from Kentucky to Washington has gone smoothly, helped by the fact that ’04 Olympic silver medalist Stevenson has implemented the same training program that worked for Gruver in Lexington.
“The best thing about the move to Seattle is the way that everyone has embraced me, from the coaches to everyone on the team that was here before, to the support staff. I couldn’t ask for anything more,” she says. “I really love the training group here. I’ve never had that many people to train with. It’s awesome to learn from each other. It’s like a big family,” she says of the group that includes 18-footer Chase Smith and Pac-12 scorer Annika Dayton, two of the holdovers from previous Husky vault coach Pat Licari.
Gruver, who would have graduated from Kentucky with a degree in Special Education this spring, will have her cap-and-gowning delayed by two quarters, as she has switched her major to Early Childhood & Family Studies. She’s proud of the fact that she made the dean’s list in her first quarter this past fall.
In assessing her ’18 outdoor campaign, she notes that it was a bumpy road after winning the SEC Indoor on the final weekend of February with a PR 15-3¾ (4.67), then placing 3rd at the NCAA Indoor 2 weeks later with a clearance of 14-9½ (4.51): “Before the Florida Relays meet in late March, I broke my right ankle, so I spent the spring recovering and rehabilitating from the injury,” she says.
At Nationals she continued using a slower walking start to protect the ankle, and made a clutch third attempt at her opening height of 13-7¼ (4.15) to stay in the competition. While her next four heights were not impressive technically, the fact that she cleared them gave her confidence the longer the competition went. She put it all together, clearing an outdoor PR of 14-11 (4.55) on her first attempt, becoming the first since Kylie Hutson of Indiana State in 2009–10 to win back-to-back titles.
With 19 of the 24 in last year’s final back this season, she knows the competition will be intense heading into Austin, a venue that she feels is one of the best for vaulters. Becoming the first woman to win three NCAA titles is up on her list of goals for this season, along with Demi Payne’s Collegiate Record 15-7 (4.75).
Gruver opted to skip last year’s USATF Championships, as the ankle was still not fully recovered, but with this a world championships year, the meet is certainly on her radar along with a spot on the team going to Doha.
“I’ve got a lot of goals for this year and beyond,” she says. /Paul Merca/ □