At the National Pole Vault Summit in Reno, Nev., New Kent senior Griffin Kowal found himself in the middle of a “perfect storm for a pole vaulter,” according to Aim High Pole Vault Club coach Kyle Bishop.
Surrounded by the nation’s best coaches and athletes, Kowal had set a personal record in a back-and-forth effort with club teammate Chris St. Helen, a senior at Highland Springs.
But he wasn’t done there.
“He just rose to the occasion,” Bishop said.
Kowal cleared 16 feet, 2 inches, breaking through a rare barrier in local pole vaulting. He’s just the second high school pole vaulter in the area to clear 16 feet, joining Chris Pillow, a 2011 Atlee graduate and fellow Aim High student.
Kowal, who is committed to pole vault at VMI, previously had cleared 15-7 at the 3A East region championships last spring. He has two 3A state championships under his belt, both won last year.
The jump in performance in Reno included progressing through two longer poles, neither of which he had previously used.
His breakthrough is another result of what Bishop called a “magical” year for Aim High. In the past year, the club moved into Aerial East Gymnastics in Mechanicsville, five boys in the club reached the 15-foot plateau, and they recently had a special guest drop by the facility: Olympic bronze medalist and two-time NCAA champion Sam Kendricks.
Kendricks, who is stationed in Fort Lee with the U.S. Army Reserve, has visited Aim High frequently to keep up his own craft, while helping the younger athletes there. Few have attached themselves more to Kendricks than Kowal.
“In addition to having all these great guys, we have the bronze medalist coming out and hanging out with the guys, making everyone feel special,” Bishop said. “Griffin has glued himself to Sam. He’s learned a lot from Sam’s experience, and Sam has been very willing to do that.”
Bishop said he wants Kowal to treat his 16-2 mark as just another steppingstone for bigger things. He’ll will have plenty of opportunities to build on it through indoor and outdoor, with state titles likely along the way.
“He’s a great kid, he works hard,” Bishop said. “And all the stars are aligning.”