Women’s vaulters raise the bar

Liz Prouty and Samantha Raines rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the Big Sky


The Easterner Archives

Senior Samantha Raines practices her vaults during outdoor season last year. Raines placed sixth in the Big Sky Conference outdoor championships last year, and was one of three Eagles to finish in the top six. Now Raines is ranked No. 2 in the pole vault for the BSC indoor season with senior teammate Liz Prouty ranked No. 1.

By Drew Lawson, Reporter

Over the past two years, the EWU men’s and women’s pole vaulters have climbed to new heights, tallying 16 first-place finishes in total.

This year’s team has been led by senior Liz Prouty, who has three first-place finishes in six meets this season.

Prouty was one of two women pole vaulters to win a Big Sky Conference championship in the past two years. Prouty placed first in the 2018 indoor championships, while former Eagle Erin Clark finished first in the 2017 outdoor championships.

This year, Prouty won EWU’s first invitational, the EWU Candy Cane IX, in December. She placed first at the MSU Invitational Duel as well and won the vault at the D1 Invitational Challenge in early February.  She also tied for fourth at the UW Invitational in January. Prouty told The Easterner the key to her strong performances.

“Having a consistent run and jumping off the ground with your arms all the way up is always going to set you up for a really good vault,” Prouty said.

Senior Samantha Raines has contributed to EWU’s success in the pole vault, placing second at the D1 Invitational and third at the MSU Invitational Duel.

“For the pole vaulters, there’s a lot of things coming together,” Raines said. “We, as a group, are doing very well. We could score a lot of points potentially, if we all do what we’re capable of. I’m excited to see where we go.”

Taylor Newquist
Women’s pole vaulters, left to right: freshman Hally Ruff, senior Liz Prouty, junior Morgan Fossen and senior Samantha Raines. Last year Prouty placed first in the Big Sky indoor championships and third in the outdoor championships.

Head coach Stan Kerr immediately brought up the consistency of Prouty and Raines throughout the season when asked about his assessment of the pole vaulters. He expects them to do well in the upcoming Big Sky Indoor Championships on Feb. 21-23.

“Sammy and Liz have been a powerful one-two punch all season,” Kerr said. “It’d be fun to see them sitting one-two on the podium next weekend.”

Part of EWU’s success in the pole vault may be attributed to jumps and multi-events coach Dave Nielsen. Nielsen is in just his second season with EWU, but was the head coach at Idaho State University for 32 years before going into retirement in 2016. He came back out of retirement as an assistant for EWU for the 2017-2018 season.

“The pole vault coach here, Eric Allison, called me and said ‘hey, you’re not doing anything,’” Nielsen said. “‘We need an assistant, so why don’t you think about coming up here.’ I didn’t do anything for a while, the job didn’t open up for a bit.”

While Nielsen was enjoying retirement, the position at EWU opened up. He decided to speak to them when an opportunity arose in Pocatello, Idaho, where ISU is located.

“I talked to them when they hosted conference at Idaho State,” Nielsen said. “I was just there as a spectator, happily retired except for coaching a little bit of high school … One thing led to another, and it just seemed like a better and better idea. I’m pretty lucky I’m here.”

Nielsen has coached world-class athletes in the pole vault. The most notable is Stacy Dragila, whom Nielsen recruited to ISU as a heptathlete back in 1992.

While at ISU, Dragila discovered the pole vault. She kept improving and reached her peak in 2000, when she won the gold medal in women’s pole vault at the Olympics in Sydney, Australia. That was the first year the sport was part of the Olympics on the women’s side. Nielsen sometimes shares that story with the EWU athletes in hopes of motivating them.

“I tell them stories sometimes,” Nielsen said. “If something comes up and that seems like that would be a good story to tell, I let them in on that. It’s just a bit of fun.”

The Easterner contacted Dragila, who shared her thoughts on Nielsen as a coach and wished the Eagles good luck in the BSC Indoor Championships.

“I can’t say enough about the way he treated his athletes and encouraged us to do our very best ,” Dragila said. “Obviously I was able to do something I never thought I’d be able to do, winning gold in the women’s pole vault … I’m really thrilled that he came out of retirement and is now up at EWU working with that crew up there.”

While Nielsen prefers to sit back and let Allison run the pole vault at this point in his career, Kerr pointed out the value of having both coach’s experience on the coaching staff.

“Under (Allison’s) guidance and with coach (Nielsen’s) input as well, that’s an enviable position for vaulters as we recruit,” Kerr said. “We go into competitions and people go, ‘oh no, here come the Eastern coaches.’ The (vaulters) are well coached athletes. We know the battle is sometimes for second or third if Eastern shows up.”

EWU will look to make its opponents battle for second or third at the Big Sky Indoor Championships on Feb. 21-23. That meet will be back in Bozeman, Montana at Montana State’s home track.