EWU Pole Vaulter Zach Klobutcher Leads Track and Field to New Heights


By Luke Pickett, Reporter

After a rainy 50-degree weather day at Whitworth, the Eastern Washington Eagles Track and Field team heads to California this weekend for some highly anticipated warm weather.

Despite the wet and windy conditions, EWU secured 20 podium spots at the Whitworth Peace Meet on Friday. 

One of the Eagles to secure one of the nine first place finishes was junior men’s pole vaulter, Brayden Freitag, who topped the podium for the first time in the 2022-23 season after clearing 4.84m (15’-10.5). 

Freitag, whose personal pole vault record is 5.03m (16’ 6), sits alone at fourth place on the all-time EWU Track and Field record books.

Bryayden Freitag getting ready to sprint down the runway at the Big Sky Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships 2023 (Photo by: Laura Asimakis)

Two spots above Freitag is his teammate, roommate and best friend, fellow junior pole vaulter Zach Klobutcher. 

“We came in (to EWU) together as freshmen and just instantly knew we were going to be best friends,” said Klobutcher. “We’re both competing with each other and always pushing for that 17 mark.”

The two athletes have dominated in the pole vault event this season, both earning individual personal records earlier this season. At the 2023 Big Sky Conference Indoor Championships, Klobutcher and Freitag took the top two spots at the podium.

Zach Klobutcher (right) and Bryaden Freitag (right) at the Big Sky Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships 2023. (Photo by: Laura Asimakis)

The dominant EWU duo tied with Montana State’s Colby Wilson at 5.05m (16’ 6.75), but Klobutcher took the top spot after clearing 5.15m in the jumpoff. In earning the gold medal at the Big Sky Indoor Championships, Klobutcher got his fourth win of the 2022-23 indoor season.

After growing up as a gymnast, Klobutcher transitioned into diving and pole vaulting as a freshman at Tahoma High School. He credits his athletic abilities in those sports to his early years as a gymnast.

“Because of gymnastics, the body awareness and being able to manipulate my body in the air like that, it just kind of worked out for both (sports),” Klobutcher said.

Since dropping gymnastics, Klobutcher had grown seven inches. Entering junior year of high school, the 6-foot-one athlete had a decision to make.

“I knew I wanted to do one (sport) in college,” said Klobutcher. “And pole vault is just so much more fun. So, pole vault won, and eight years later here I am.”

He placed first in Washington state at pole vault during his junior year, and was the eighth ranked pole vaulter in the nation during his senior year after jumping 16’ 9.

Zach Klobutcher takes an interview with ESPN after winning the gold medal in men’s pole vault at the Big Sky Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships 2023. (Photo by: Laura Asimakis)

Klobutcher narrowed his college decision down to EWU and Grand Canyon University. After taking a trip to Arizona, he knew he had to break the news to GCU head coach Todd Lehman.

“That was a tough phone call,” Klobutcher said. “GCU was just so hot. I was melting the whole time I was there.”

Even though Klobutcher enjoyed the company of the GCU pole vaulters and coaches, his decision came down to the weather and comfortability. Now, he says, pole vaulters and coaches from GCU and other schools still support one another, coming together as friends amidst their competition. 

“All of us pole vaulters are pretty cool people,” Klobutcher said. “We’re competing for different schools, but we are all in the same sport.”

Now in his junior year at EWU, Klobutcher aims to place on the podium once again for the upcoming Big Sky Conference Outdoor Championships.

Outdoor pole vaulting is a whole other beast to conquer. Due to the wind, rain and excessive sunlight, pole vaulters can have difficulty performing at the same level as they do indoors. 

The overcast conditions which played a role at Whitworth on Friday were not a factor when Klobutcher won the indoor conference championship gold. He did not place on Friday after taking an NH (no height) for being unable to clear his first bar of 4.82m (15’ 10). 

“Nobody likes pole vaulting in the rain,” Klobutcher said before his event on Friday. “There’s a select few who are good at it. I used to be good at it in high school, but not anymore.”

Minus the rough day at Whitworth, Klobutcher recognizes he’s having the best year of his career. Before becoming the Big Sky’s best pole vaulter, Klobutcher says his confidence grew greatly from the struggles of last season. 

“I had a rough year last year,” Klobutcher said. “This is a very mental sport. I just about gave up mentally after the fourth or fifth meet. But this year I stopped freaking out so much and taking pole vaulting so seriously.”

Klobutcher, a senior academically standing, still has one year of athletic eligibility at EWU due to Covid-19 interferences. He plans to use it. 

“I just got my degree in exercise science and now I’m getting my masters (degree) in behavioral science,” Klobutcher said. “I said I would be an Eagle for four years, and now it’s five.”

The recent EWU graduate will study organizational leadership through the masters program with the end goal of being a firefighter. Having two freshmen on the pole vault roster this season, Corbin Luce and Lucas Couron, Klobutcher embraced the leadership role. 

“I’ll tell them, ‘It’s just pole vault. That’s all we’re doing. We’re putting a stick in the ground and flinging our bodies in the air,’” said Klobutcher. “If you’re not having fun, then you’re doing it wrong.”

At the 2023 Lauren McCluskey Memorial, Klobutcher had fun as he got his personal record and first win of the year after clearing 5.21 m (17’ 1), which placed him second on the all-time EWU pole vault record list.

The mark stands as the best in EWU indoor history.