Senior pole vaulter Sydney Clute continued her perfect outdoor season by winning the Big Ten Championship Sunday in dominating fashion.
She broke the conference meet record and set a Penn State facility record with her mark of 4.43 meters. This is her third Big Ten title and she has won the last three conference championships she has competed in.
Clute was the lone champion for IU as both teams finished the meet in eighth place. Clute said winning was her goal going in and that it felt good to accomplish it.
“I knew that my biggest obstacle was going to be myself,” Clute said. “I knew if I went and jumped like I know I can, then I was going to win. I just had to stay focused on what I was doing.”
She holds the school and conference record for her event and has won six consecutive meets dating back to her fourth-place finish last year at the outdoor National Championships.
“I just really tried to focus on doing what I needed to do to prepare and sort of blocked out everything else that was going on,” Clute said. “Whether it be the weather everyone was worried about or the fact it was Big Ten, I just try not to think about those things.”
Coach Ron Helmer said the key for Clute was her ability to stay locked into what was going on despite the many distractions that can occur at this kind of competition.
“The field acted like it was a bad day to vault because it was too windy and cold, but Sydney went out and killed it,” Helmer said. “She’s a great athlete and she’s evolved into a mature big-time competitor along with the fact that she’s extremely talented and skilled.”
Clute was rewarded for her efforts by being named the Big Ten Women’s Field Athlete of the Championship.
The Hoosiers as a whole didn’t fare too well as both teams finished eighth in the final team standings. The men accumulated a total of 64 points while the women ended up with 49.
“We are disappointed with the eighth places,” Helmer said. “We feel like we are better than that, but you are what you are on that day. I felt like the majority of our kids competed hard, but we had some others that I felt like could have done more than they did.”
Due to the high number of good coaches, programs and history in the Big Ten, Helmer said his message for the team was that it’s really hard to be good in this conference because the margin for error is so small.
Clute was the bright spot for IU, but there were plenty of good performances from other athletes on the women’s side. Junior Katherine Receveur also received praise from Helmer for the 14 points she contributed.
The All-American made the podium in both of her events. She was narrowly edged out of a first-place finish in the 5,000m run. Her second-place time of 16:23.29 was .05 seconds behind the leader.
In the 1,500m run, Receveur finished in third in the finals after having the top qualifying time on Friday. Fellow junior Brenna Calder wasn’t too far behind as she finished in sixth. One hour later, Calder would finish eighth in the 800m run, her fourth race of the competition.
“We probably spread Brenna too thin, but that’s what you do in a Big Ten meet,” Helmer said. “You have to take those shots to try to get as many points as you can.”
Helmer said there were other athletes who helped out, but many of his younger athletes still struggled to stay consistent for multiple days. Sophomore Maggie Allen took third in the 10,000m run and ran the sixth fastest time in IU history.
“I didn’t bring Maggie back in the 5k because she’s still young and we weren’t competing for a championship,” Helmer said. “Ten-thousand meters was enough because she has the NCAA Regionals coming up and I want to put her in a good place for that.”
Redshirt senior Nakel McClinton was the first Hoosier to score with her third-place finish in the hammer throw. She also took sixth in the discus. Senior Ari Nelson was also able to help out in the field by taking fourth in the long jump.
The men’s team also finished in eighth, but there was a bit of added expectations for them due to the indoor championship they captured earlier this year.
“If you look at indoors, we were on and pretty much maximized everything we did,” Helmer said. “We are also probably more suited for the indoor meet. I’m not using that as an excuse at all, but it does reduce that margin even smaller.”
There were no room for mistakes for any team and the final scores will back that up. IU was only nine points away from finishing in fourth place on the men’s side.
“Going into it, I thought we had a good chance of finishing around there with an outside chance of getting third,” Helmer said. “If we would have had 10 more points, I would have said we had a great meet. That’s not very many points at all. We left that many points out there that we easily could have gotten.”
Helmer said he knew it would be difficult to push for the top spot like they did in indoors without the help of two of his indoor Big Ten Champions. Junior Daniel Kuhn and sophomore Eric Bethea were responsible for a great deal of points during indoors, but weren’t available to compete this time around.
With those two out, Helmer said it was then the responsibility of the entire team to pick up the weight.
“The points are precious,” Helmer said. “It’s on everybody to go out there and get one more point. There were areas where we fought for points, but there were also some places where we didn’t and that could have made the difference.”
Sophomore Willie Morrison led the way as he was runner-up in the shot put. His throw of 19.51m was his second best of the season and gave him the lead going into the finals, but was only good enough for second as he couldn’t improve on that.
Helmer credited junior Joe Murphy for his effort in the steeplechase after falling in the water on the last hurdle and still pushing on for a third-place finish. Seniors Jeremy Coughler and Jason Crist took the fourth and fifth spots, respectively.
Murphy was also able to take sixth place in the 1,500m run. Freshman Kyle Mau finished four places higher in the runner-up position with a time of 3:50.23. Sophomore Bryce Millar added five points by finishing fourth in the men’s 10k.
Seniors Diquis Manley and Zach Reitzug scored points in the 400m hurdles final. Manley finished in third with a time of 51.69 seconds. Reitzug was less than a second behind him in fifth.
Helmer said the eighth-place finish is disappointing, but not defining of what his team is capable of. He mentioned that the majority of the team actually exceeded their seed marks going into the meet.
“Obviously we had some people that didn’t, but those are the type of things we need to look at,” Helmer said, “I have to be careful that we evaluate this appropriately relative to who we had out there, their youth, their inexperience, the level of competition and what I absolutely know it’s going to look like in the future as they continue to grow and progress!”
Helmer knows he cannot get too far ahead of himself quite yet as he still has some athletes who will be moving on and competing this year. One of those athletes who will be looking forward to competing again is Big Ten Champion, Sydney Clute.
“My goal is to win nationals,” Clute said. “No matter what happens in the next month of competing that we have left, I’m going to be happy with how I’ve competed in my career as a pole vaulter here at IU. I just want to enjoy the time I have left with my teammates because I know I’m going to miss it when I’m gone.”
Helmer said he’s extremely proud of how Clute has matured and said it’s her desire that sets her apart from other athletes on the team. He also said she has a lot to teach the younger athletes who are good, but haven’t yet been able to demonstrate the same level of composure and confidence that she has.
“I’m excited about what this team, men and women, have the ability to do as we move forward,” Helmer said. “We are seeing people work hard and we are also seeing people hurt when things don’t go well. We are adding some really good kids and the good ones we have now are going to get even better.”
Helmer said the growth and development of his athletes this year along with the high-talented kids he has at his disposal, makes for a very bright future.
“I don’t know if we could be in a better place right now relative to what the next couple of years are going to look like, but I just didn’t want to go in and take eighth place when I felt like we could have been a little bit better than that,” Helmer said.
“Hope and optimism are things that cause people to make good decisions, stay focused and work hard. Sometimes eighth place doesn’t give you that optimism you deserve to have or need to have.”
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