Senior pole vaulter Monica Stearns continues to shatter her own school record

Lou Raguse

DES MOINES, Iowa – Under ideal weather conditions at the Drake Relays on Friday, senior Monica Stearns propelled herself over the pole vault bar, gave a high-five and hugged vaulting coach Caroline White.

The height of the vault was 12-11.5, breaking Stearns’ own Minnesota record and matching the top vault at the meet.

Because of scratches, Stearns finished in third place.

But as the weather turned cold and rainy Saturday, some of Minnesota’s women’s track and field team’s finishes were soggier than coach Gary Wilson hoped for. That left him a message he said the Gophers will address for the rest of the season:

“You’ve got to put the ‘M’ on your chest every single day, not just meet day,” Wilson said. “Now is the time we have to start doing that. Every single year, Drake seems to be the wake-up-call meet.”

The only other top-10 finishes for the Gophers on Friday were the distance medley team, Nicole Kopari in the discus, Jen Hess in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and Melissa Steele in the 400-meter hurdles.

Kopari finished fifth, and Hess finished seventh while competing in a field that included the world’s second-best steeplechase runner.

But Friday’s highlight for the Gophers was Stearns, who continued her steady progress in this record-breaking season.

“When you get up to those heights, you have to use the bigger poles,” Stearns said. “That can get to be a mental thing.”

It did not seem to affect her Saturday, as she came back to Minnesota and vaulted 13-0.25 at the Macalester Invitational.

“She did a great job,” Wilson said. “I just feel bad we had such terrible weather for everyone competing (Saturday). Otherwise, there’d be 18,000 fans here. It’s just too bad.”

Top finishers for the Gophers on Saturday included hammer thrower Nina Cotolupenco who finished 10th and the 4×800-meter relay team, which finished fifth.

But the best performance Saturday came from freshman Sarah Nelson, who was taking jumps at the soaked long jump pit after the rest of the team had loaded the bus.

Coach Matt Bingle told Nelson to block out the adverse conditions and just compete, and she responded with a third-place jump of 18-7.25.

“I didn’t jump very well,” Nelson said. “But Bingle was happy that I didn’t wuss out.”

Nelson was able to handle the rainy conditions better than some jumpers because in her hometown of Sarnia, Ontario, she said, it rains all time.

“She’s doing a great job,” Wilson said. “And she just got in here at the last minute – I got her in the meet (Friday.)”

This weekend, Nelson and some of the Gophers will compete at the Iowa Twilight meet, while others will travel to Stanford.