The Ole Miss sophomore set the track & field world abuzz last Friday night when he recorded a season-best mark of 19 feet, 0.75 inches in the pole vault at the Texas Relays held on the University of Texas campus.
His mark wasn’t just a personal best or the best mark in Ole Miss school history, it was also the best vault recorded in college since 1998 and the fifth-best mark in the history of college pole vaulting. His record is also the best mark in the pole vault in the world this year. Let that last stat sink in, the best mark currently recorded in the world.
Kendricks’ accomplishment also garnered him recognition from the Southeastern Conference Tuesday as he was named SEC Men’s Field Athlete of the Week.
To say the feeling of clearing the bar last Friday night was surreal would be an understatement. It’s not that Kendricks didn’t think he could achieve such a lofty number — his goal this year is to not clear a mark less than 18 feet — it was actually doing it against a great field of competitors that was the biggest obstacle.
“We had to go up a couple of heights to get to 19 feet. When we jumped 18 feet, there were still nine guys in the competition. There was only one time where I jumped 18 feet as a freshman, so it’s just astronomical to think how many great jumpers there are here. Then we moved up to 18, 4.5, which is one centimeter better than what I did at the NCAAs and there were five guys that made that and there weren’t five guys that made that at the NCAA Championship,” Kendricks said. “Then we moved up 18 feet, 7.5 inches and I’m on the same pole. (Ole Miss) Coach (Scott) Kendricks said I could make it on that pole but I wanted to keep going up on a bigger pole to have a little more cushion to make it. I think at 18.8 and a quarter, I had the best jump of my entire career so far because I had to push off the top of the pole over a meter which was the biggest push of the day in order to make it.
“I think the mindset, after making that jump, set me up me to be able to make the 19 feet bar. I jumped up to that next pole that I never tried before. I had enough adrenaline to make it on that pole,” Kendricks added. “I had never seen anybody attempt that in person. I ran down the runway smooth. I made it on my first jump on a pole I had never used in the competition. When I came up in the air and I pushed off the top, I said something is going to happen tonight. I eased over it. It was in slow motion, and I know that’s cliché, but coming down I just saw (the bar) stay there, not move at all and then I heard the crowd explode.”
The feeling of winning the Texas Relay title, and setting a mark that may not be broken in a long time, was set in motion during the indoor season. After not achieving the kind of mark he wanted at the SEC Indoor meet in Arkansas, Kendricks and his father, Scott, went back to work.
“At SEC Indoor, that’s the big team meet and you want to do well for your school. After I jumped 17 feet, which I had done at SECs the previous year, I wasn’t able to make my height even though I knew I was capable. It was disappointing but instead of being discouraged, me and Coach Kendricks bounced back,” Sam Kendricks said. “We worked on becoming more consistent, on making sure we dominated those lower heights so we could keep in the higher ranks of the competition. So when we got to NCAAs, it worked out. Everybody was great competition. I didn’t win, I got third on misses but that was a great meet so I knew we were all on the rise.”
The meet in Texas was the second outdoor meet of the season. The previous week, Kendricks, and the rest of the field, didn’t jump all that high in Starkville due to less-than-ideal weather conditions.
“At Mississippi State, nobody jumped over 16-6 because it was terrible conditions. I only jumped 16 feet, 1 inch. That was kind of a fluke meet. Nobody did well. It wasn’t the best day for pole vaulting,” Kendricks said. “I got here to Texas and I knew that I prepared, I knew I had great competition, the facilities were here and we said we’re going to have some fun today and that’s what we did.”
Since leaving OHS as the MHSAA Class 5A state champion, Kendricks has achieved six straight regular-season titles dating back to last April when he finished fourth at the Drake Relays. He has 12 career college wins in the pole vault and has also been named All-SEC and an All-American for his accomplishments in both outdoor or indoor.
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