2017 Sioux City Relays

South Dakota's Emily Grove competes in the pole vault during the Sioux City Relays track and field meet at Olsen Stadium in Sioux City, Iowa, Friday, April 22, 2017. (Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal)

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal

SIOUX CITY – In case you missed it, what a weekend it was for the Sioux City Relays.

Friday’s cool temps were met with sunshine on Saturday at Olsen Stadium, leading to 14 new meet records being set, including six in the prep boys division alone.

It was the final major tune-up for most colleges and preps prior to the Drake Relays which begin Wednesday at Drake Stadium in Des Moines.

The University of South Dakota flexed some muscle during the two-day competition. If you weren’t one of the brave to stick around close to midnight on Friday you didn’t get an opportunity to see the NCAA Division I indoor national pole vault champion compete, Chris Nilsen.

After spending five days in California the previous weekend the Coyotes were eager to run in a meet close to home.

“Our kids were excited not to be on the road, the Sioux City Relays is like a home meet for us,” said Lucky Huber, USD’s director of track and field/cross country and head women’s track coach. “Interesting things that one of our kids made was we have some home meets, let’s take advantage of it.

“Kids like Lindsay Joyce, she ran here in high school, she really performed well. There was that and a combination of a great crowd, great weather, great facility all that stuff came together and really added for our kids competing well.”

Nilsen overcame a broken pole earlier in the week to unset his coach and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Derek Miles from the Relays record board by clearing 18-9.5. Miles, a three-time Olympian, had set the mark in 2001 by clearing 18-9.

No previous Relays winner had jumped higher than 17-0.75.

“Quite honestly as we were going through the week we were worried about it,” said Huber of Friday’s late night and chilling weather conditions. “He broke a pole on Tuesday and that’s a traumatic experience for someone not just physically, but also mentally. We got some new poles. That’s why we wanted to jump to get those ready.”

Nilsen joined fellow Coyote Emily Grove atop the NCAA Division I charts this outdoor season. Grove broke her own Relays record, winning her third Relays pole vault title of her career with a personal best 15-1 clearance.

Nilsen entered the competition at 5.333 meters (17-5.75) and proceeded to make 5.50 meters, 5.65 meters and 5.73 meters (18-9.5) on his first attempt.

Nilsen and Grove were met with what Huber calls ‘pit piles’ after both cleared their respective marks.

“What part of that is Coach Miles doing as great a job of making the whole vault group feel like they're one,” said Huber. “When you have some athletes and we're talking about some of the greatest athletes in the country and maybe even the world. How do you have them still feel like their part of the team and everyone buying into their success.

"That’s what the ‘pit pile’ that we call it is really about, is everybody celebrating when one celebrates and it doesn’t matter if it’s the No. 1 mark in the country or it’s the last pole vaulter on the team, but she vaults. They all do that so it’s really a fun thing and that goes back to Coach Miles being I think one of the best pole vault coaches if not the best pole vault coach in the country.”

Grove and Nilsen will next vault in the Drake Relays. Nilsen has been asked to compete in the special vault competition on Saturday with the Olympians.

South Dakota is quickly becoming pole vault ‘U’ as the school’s only two NCAA Division I national titles in school history have come in the pole vault.

“We’re trying too, we knew that when we made that transition to Division I we wanted to be really good at something and I think that has elevated our whole program,” said Huber. “Our kids look at it and say you know what, we get All-Americans and we can do this and we have seen that role into other things. Our women’s distance program is rolling right now, won three conference titles, that’s Lindsay Joyce, that’s Julia Noah, that’s Iowa kids coming in and doing that.

“We feel like that’s part of what we can create is that culture of success.”

Joyce, the former Bishop Heelan prep, broke the only other record in the collegiate division when she raced to her second straight victory in the 1,500 in 4:33.71.

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