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ETSU's Squibbs vaulting to new heights

Kelly Hodge • May 13, 2014 at 8:30 PM

Brett Squibbs comes from a family of frequent flyers, and he’s taking his heritage to heart.

The freshman pole vaulter has been building an impressive resume since showing up on the East Tennessee State campus last fall. He’ll be the prohibitive favorite at the Atlantic Sun Conference outdoor championships this weekend in Jacksonville, Fla., having won the indoor meet by over a foot and a half. Squibbs has upped his school record three times since.

He cleared 17 feet, an important milestone, in a meet at Auburn last month. Right now the sky looks like the limit, and the 20-year-old sounds like he’s in a hurry to get there.

“Maybe I expected a little more, but the season’s not over yet,” Squibbs said Tuesday. “I’d like to get 17-6 out of this year; I think that would get me into nationals as well. This is the most important year to me … doing so many incredible things as a freshman would be a lot cooler than doing them later on.”

Squibbs came to ETSU from Rock Hill, S.C., where he developed his sense of flying on the track naturally. His father Bryan was a pole vaulter, and so were his three older brothers.

“The thing that always had the most appeal to me watching my older brothers do it was how crazy it looked and how much fun,” he said. “I wanted to do it.”

Squibbs came to ETSU with a firm grasp of the sport, and he’s been on the rise since posting 15-7 in his first competitive meet with the Bucs. Now here he is at 17 feet, ¾ inches -—about three feet off the current world record -— and looking for more.

He has already qualified for the first round of the NCAA championships, which will be conducted in two weeks at the same venue as the conference meet, Hodges Stadium on the North Florida campus.

Squibbs gives much of the credit for his improvement to David Johnston, ETSU’s assistant coach who primarily works with George Watts’ jumpers and multi-event athletes. Johnston is world-renowned for fine-tuning pole vaulters’ approach on the track, and has worked with several Olympians in a 40-year coaching career.

“He’s gotten me stronger and faster and into all different types of things,” said Squibbs. “I see the pole vault in so many different ways now.”

Johnston has accepted an invitation to travel to Finland next month and work with some of that country’s top athletes. First he’ll see Squibbs and a handful of teammates through the NCAA qualifying, and perhaps to Eugene, Ore., for the national championships June 11-14.

Only the top 12 from a field of 48 in the first round of competition will make it. (ETSU long jumper Tyler Stepp qualified last year as a junior.)

Johnston says Squibbs has what it takes to get there, if not this year then soon. At 5-foot-11, he has that fluid mix of speed, strength, technique and fearlessness as he sprints with a six-pound pole in his hands, plants and then hopefully sails over the bar and into the pit with a soft landing.

“Brett had the background; he knows how to pole vault,” said Johnston. “He just needs the opportunities that he has here to show what he can do. The thing I probably do best with jumpers is teach the run. I’m known all over the world for teaching guys how to run with a pole in their hands.”

“DJ has just taken Brett to another level,” said Watts, the Bucs’ head coach. “He’s gone six inches higher outdoors than indoors, and I think he can go six inches higher in the next two meets. He’s a young guy with a bright future.”

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