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Jeff Kolpack, Published January 23 2009

College Plus: A great career launch

Leslie Brost attended her first NDSU Pole Vault Camp before her freshman year in high school, which became an annual summer trek to Ellig Sports Complex.

By the time the college recruiting bell rang, the standout from Watertown, S.D., was on a first-name basis with Bison assistant Stevie Keller, who runs the camp and holds a degree of excellence in the event. Other college recruiters didn’t have a chance.

“It was a lot different than being recruited by coaches I never met,” Brost said. “They would call me up and say ‘I’m so-and-so from this university.’ With Stevie, it was a lot more comfortable and I felt like I already knew everybody here. I already felt when I was talking to him that I was talking to my coach.”

She felt at home in her first college meet last weekend. Brost cleared 13 feet, 5¼ inches to set a school record by nearly a foot. It was also an NCAA provisional qualifying mark.

At the least, she’s well on her way to becoming one of the most talented Bison track and field athletes ever. At the most, she may have the ability to become the school’s first Division I national champion.

Last year’s winning height was 13-9¼ by California’s Katie Morgan. But Keller is also quick to point out that there are several young up-and-coming pole vaulters – six of the top eight finishers return this year.

“I’ll set a goal for each season and try to get there,” Brost said.

Keller said at those heights, a one-inch improvement is impressive. But considering Brost’s athletic ability – she lettered six years in gymnastics at Watertown and excels in NDSU strength and conditioning tests – reaching the 14-foot barrier “is a matter of doing a few things better.”

“It’s doable,” he said. “I’m not going to put a target on her, but 14 feet is possible down the road.”

Last weekend in the Bison Classic, Brost was just happy to get through it. She was so nervous that Keller wondered if she was going to make her initial height.

This is an athlete who has already been around the block, qualifying for the World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland. She went 13-5¼ at the Nike Nationals in North Carolina.

“Just because it was the first college meet,” she said of the nerves. “New uniform, I wanted to start college with a good meet.”

The old NDSU record was 12-6¼ by Julie Strenkowski in 2004. With Brost, a new era was born and it started on summer days in Keller’s pole vault camp.

“She kept coming up here and getting better and better,” Keller said. “She’s the type of athlete you just put in there. She’s tough and she works hard.”

Readers can reach Jeff Kolpack at (701) 241-5546 or jkolpack@forumcomm.com. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com