By Richard Smith
West Valley Preps
For many in the Arizona track community, winning at the Chandler Rotary Invitational is a season highlight to rival a state title.
But in the unique world of pole vaulting, the field is not always as deep as Chandler’s star-studded sprints and distance events. That was the case March 25 as Valley Vista senior Cole Riddle cruised to the title by clearing 16 feet, seven inches lower than the personal best he established a week before.
Riddle said he enjoyed the Chandler crowd and found redemption after placing fourth in 2016. He will have to head out of state, however, in search of bigger game.
“You have to focus on the country as a whole because watching other kids in the state doesn’t push you. But when you go to bigger meets you can see how it should be done correctly,” Riddle said.
He first tried out the discipline along with several others as a freshman. He started out awkward, but his athletic gifts allowed him to grasp this unique skill quickly.
Rick Scaife has coached Valley Vista pole vaulters for nine years of his 25 years coaching the discipline. He said Riddle picked up on the gross motor movement early.
“He was already elite as a freshman. You could tell. I was able to move through the progressions really quickly,” Scaife said. “He’s a phenomenal athlete and he’s fearless.”
Riddle won the state freshman/sophomore invite as a freshman. Injuries marred his sophomore season, but that year is when he started training with former Olympic champion Nick Hysong in the offseason.
Hysong helps in particular with Riddle’s running form and the mechanics at the top of the vault.
“He tells me a lot of things that most coaches don’t know because he’s had a lot of experience,” Riddle said.
Those sessions and his work with Scafie set up a junior year breakthrough, as Riddle placed second in Division I, then cleared 16-6 in the Meet of Champions the next week.
He also said he learned from Chandler Hamilton’s Connor Stevens, who cleared 17 feet to win state, picking up pointers from him at the big meets.
Riddle said his early years in the sport were largely about developing the proper run-up.
“To most people it’s just a run. But you don’t realize until later on that you have to be really bouncy and your step has to be exactly on. You have to start it and end it differently,” Riddle said.
Now most of the work is fine tuning the actual vault, and all the mechanics that go into it.
To further his growth, Riddle also is competing in collegiate events.
“We look at hours and hours of video. Every jump he takes, we look at a video. At this point we’re doing different tiny movements and looking at very specific things in the vault,” Coach Scafie said.
The senior said he has received offers from three universities, eight or nine have shown interest. At this point, he is not leaning toward any school, as there is much work to be done.
Scafie said Riddle cleared 16-7 on a 15-foot pole March 18 at the Rattler Boost Invite. Now he received 16-foot poles and has big goals.
Riddle said he is looking forward to the Arcadia Invitational this coming weekend in California and junior Olympic Nations in the summer.
With the state Division I finals, the Monsoon senior has three more opportunities to match or best one of his mentors. Hysong still holds the state record at 17-3 ¾ set during his days at Tolleson High School in 1990.
“I’m shooting for the state record. I’m going to try to break it and jump 17-6,” Riddle said.