Dublin Villager

Track & Field

Bennett soars to new heights, NCAA title

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Michael Bennett is always crunching numbers.

In the classroom, the 2012 Dublin Coffman High School graduate maintains a 3.2 GPA as an economics major at the University of Chicago. For the Maroons men's track and field team, he's a record-setting pole vaulter and national champion.

Bennett won the NCAA Division III indoor title in a meet held March 14 and 15 at the University of Nebraska. Then he was runner-up in the outdoor national meet May 22-24 at Ohio Wesleyan.

Bennett admitted he was most pleased with his runner-up performance of 16 feet, 8 3/4 inches, which set a program record. The sophomore finished second to University of Dubuque (Iowa) junior Rick Valcin, who won a jump-off against Bennett by clearing 16-10 3/4.

For Bennett, the height he clears matters as much as where he places.

"I go into meets wanting to reach a certain height. I think about that more than where I place," he said. "I had four (personal records) at the outdoor championships, so when I lost the jump-off, I sat there thinking that there was nothing more that I could have done.

"I went eight inches higher than my (personal record). I can't explain how I did that. I was running faster than before and jumped as well as I ever have. Honestly, I'm still ecstatic."

Maroons coach Chris Hall said Bennett's structured routine is one of the keys to his success.

"He is driven by the heights he is trying to clear more than national titles or being an All-American," Hall said. "Even after the indoor title, I don't think he ever lost his focus to get better."

Bennett was perfect in winning the indoor title, defeating the favored Valcin. He was undefeated in the indoor season and completed his first four jumps in the national meet without a miss before the winning performance of 16-3/4, a program indoor record.

Valcin cleared the same height, but lost the jump-off after missing on his first attempt at 15-11.

"It was fun watching that (indoor) meet unfold," Hall said. "Michael was so clean with no misses and I think that might have put some pressure on the kid from Dubuque."

Bennett said luck was a factor in winning the indoor title with Valcin missing a jump.

"I didn't win the (indoor) title as much as I backed into it," Bennett said. "I should have gone higher, and I wanted to focus on the outdoor season."

As a senior at Coffman, Bennett placed third (15-8) in the Division I state meet. He also qualified for the NCAA Division III outdoor meet as a freshman and tied for 11th (15-1).

"I think the experience in the national meet last year as a freshman really helped," Hall said. "We knew he needed to go a little higher from high school, but he came to us as a pretty outstanding athlete, so we were not surprised at how well he did. The biggest key is how comfortable you are with college and he handled that transition well."

Bennett said one of the biggest keys to success at the collegiate level is mental preparation.

"If you are competing in college, you already have the physical tools," he said. "But so many things can go wrong in a jump, so you have to be mentality prepared. If you focus on one thing, you can mess the other things up."

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