* Gennifer Hirata speaks to MileSplit after winning the pole vault at the Texas Relays in 2019
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But how did they become the new go-to place for high-fliers?
"It starts from the top," assistant coach Derek Miles told MileSplit. "There's always been this background of support. Our program director (Lucky Huber) was my old coach. It's a unique pairing."
For perspective, the South Dakota men had two of the top 13 pole vaulters in the entire NCAA last spring. Those two names were Chris Nilsen and Ethan Bray.
You may remember Nilsen as the 2019 NCAA Outdoor National Champion in the pole vault. You know? The same guy who upset LSU superstar Mondo Duplantis en route to the national title last June? That one.
Both Nilsen and Bray have returned for this indoor season and are joined by fellow senior Nick Johnson, another South Dakota pole vaulter who found himself tied with a handful of other names for the 50th best height in the NCAA last spring.
But the women of South Dakota have been able to hold their own in the pole vault as well. Despite not having a superstar like Nilsen, the Yotes had four women listed in the top 60 of the event last spring. That group of four consisted of Helen Fada, Kimberly Peterson, Deidra Marrison and Landon Kemp.
Collectively, the University of South Dakota has found a way to become one of the deepest programs in the nation for an event that is so unique and far more acrobatic than anything we're used to talking about.
The reason for that? Culture.
Miles credits the positive, hard-working and encouragement-based environment as a big reason why South Dakota has prospered in the pole vault. Those are the key aspects that he looks for when recruiting athletes to join his army of pole vaulters.
"We want good people, good kids, who contribute positively to the people around them," said Miles. "It's not just during practice either. If you look at the three girls we have coming in [for the pole vault], I don't think there's a B on their transcripts."
A three-time Olympian and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, it has become abundantly clear that Miles has been able to transition his elite talents into his teachings. As a result, he has constructed a pole vault contingent with a history of 22 Division One All-Americans and four national titles split between two individuals (Nilsen and Bethany Buell).
Between the proven results, the promising development, and an Olympian coach who emphasizes all aspects of athletes' well-being, it's no wonder that top pole vault talents are taking another look at South Dakota as a potential landing spot for their collegiate endeavors.
Maybe that's why we have been seeing more and more top pole vaulters taking their talents to Vermillion instead of traditional powerhouse programs like Texas Tech, Florida or Arkansas. Like Hirata, for one.
Maybe that's why Jaidyn Garrett, a high school pole vaulter with an eye-brow raising PR of 13-3.25, is going all the way from New England to South Dakota.
Maybe that's why Cassidy Mooneyhan, the top high school pole vaulter in Arkansas right now who cleared 12-11.75 less than a month ago, is leaving the Razorbacks in the rearview mirror in favor of the Yotes.
Maybe that's why Alayna Falak, a South Dakota native with a 12-7.5 PR who could have gone to a handful of other schools, stayed in state.
Maybe that's why Tre Young, one of the better pole vaulters in the country, is taking his 15-10 PR all the way from Ohio to South Dakota.
Maybe that's why Eerik Haamer is leaving Estonia and bringing his PR of 17-8.5 with him to join the Coyotes.
"When you come out of high school, when you're nationally ranked, there's a lot of pressure from the local news, your community, school, peers, family...so a lot of kids automatically look at these big schools that they see on ESPN," Miles explained to us.
"And that's fine, but that's not really us. In the world of pole vaulting, it's very unique and very different. There's more information and social media now. Kids are doing a little more research and getting more information."
The Coyotes have found national relevance by leveraging the coaching lessons (and life lessons) of an Olympian and marketing the ensuing success to top recruits, not just around the nation, but around the world.
And as far as we can tell, it's working.
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Class of 2020 Signing Class