LA CROSSE — Bangor junior Sam Crenshaw's progression in the pole vault throughout his high school track and field career has moved on a steady upward trajectory from year to year.
It started with laying the groundwork and navigating through some inevitable growing pains as a freshman. That helped build toward his first state appearance and a spot on the medalist podium as a sophomore. Crenshaw's journey hit a new peak to conclude his junior season with a state championship — but one that still left him with something to shoot for in 2024.
Crenshaw secured his place in the pantheon of state champions by placing first overall in the Division 3 boys' pole vault at the 2023 WIAA State Track and Field Championships Saturday, June 3 in La Crosse.
Crenshaw set a strong standard by clearing the bar at 15 feet — a full foot better than what Weyauwega-Fremont senior Isiah Schuh posted in second place. It was an impeccable performance for Crenshaw, as he successfully cleared the bar on his first five attempts at 12 feet, 13 feet, 13.5 feet, 14 feet and 15 feet to put up a number that proved to be out of reach for the rest of his competition.
"Coming in, I felt really strong with warmups," Crenshaw said. "Throughout my vaults I was clearing them and wasn't missing anything."
Reaching the top of the podium was just the next step in a journey that saw Crenshaw make his state debut in 2022. On that occasion, Crenshaw's best vault came at 12 feet, 6 inches to place fifth overall and earn a medal.
He further solidified his status as one of the best pole vaulters in Wisconsin throughout this spring and came into state seeded No. 1 overall among the Division 3 boys' field thanks to hitting a mark of 14 feet at sectionals.
Naturally there is a certain pressure that comes with that sort of expectation, but it did not faze Crenshaw.
"It's always nice to win the state title, but I like to see kids enjoy the moment and that's what Sam did," said Bangor head coach Kevin Kravik. "You come in here and it's a big stage and everything — sure there's a little pressure on you being (seeded) number one, but I can honestly say it's better being number one than being number seven when you come in here. I think that confidence level has been with him all year and he's provided what he's needed to do."
Kravik and Bangor's coaches stress to their athletes to "trust the process" with the understanding that it will pay off in the long run. Kravik has seen it work in his own family. His son, Kellen, was a standout star for the Cardinals in the pole vault as well.
Kellen placed seventh in his state debut as a sophomore in 2014, won the state title in his last two years of high school in 2015 and 2016 and then continued his track career in college at Illinois State. Crenshaw is following a similarly successful trajectory thus far, and he still knows there's more out there for him to accomplish.
The Division 3 boys' state meet record in the pole vault was set by Spencer's Noah Zastrow when he cleared the bar at 15 feet, 4 inches in 2017. Crenshaw's personal best is 15 feet, 6 inches, which he achieved this spring at the Willard Hanson Invitational hosted by La Crosse Central on May 4.
Crenshaw wasn't able to replicate that at state this time around — coming up short on his three attempts at 15 feet, 6 inches after securing first place — but it's already given the newly-crowned state champion something to strive for in his senior season.
"I'm a little disappointed not to get that state record, but it will come next year," Crenshaw said. "That'll be my big motivation for next year."
"You've always got to set your goals high. When you reach (a state title), you're not done. You just keep going," Kravik said. "He's a state champion. Now, he wants to be a state champion with a state record."
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