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Canyon pole vaulter Robert Wolfe: Change of subject

Senior's emergence as a pole vaulter has led to talks of CIF dreams

Posted: April 17, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 17, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Canyon senior Robert Wolfe was almost cut as a freshman. Now, he’s arguably the best pole vaulter in the Foothill League and plans on a deep CIF run.

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Canyon senior Robert Wolfe is talking to the University of La Verne coaches about continuing his track and field career.

Three years ago, he was talking to the Canyon coaches about keeping his career alive.

“I had him in the parking lot,” says head coach Paul Broneer. “I said, ‘Robert, I hate to tell you this, but you’re not even close to qualifying in any event.’”

There was still another event he hadn’t yet tried – pole vaulting.

He hasn’t stopped since.

His personal best in the event came at the Arcadia Invitational on April 7, when he cleared 14 feet, 3 inches to move into third place on Canyon’s all-time list.

It just so happens that 14-3 is also the mark that got eight of the nine CIF-Southern Section Division II finalists through last season at prelims.

Wolfe is very aware of that. But he wants to go further.

“My goal is to make state, to go to Clovis,” he says, without hesitation.

That would have sounded ludicrous three years ago.

Wolfe, who didn’t even stand 5 feet tall as a freshman, cleared 7 feet to make the team, and there was still a lot of work left to be done to turn him into a viable pole vaulter.

It’s a good thing, then, that Wolfe comes from a military family. His two older brothers graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, and Wolfe has a work ethic that rivals theirs.

Sometimes, it gets him in trouble.

“He is very tenacious, and it’s like he’s never really satisfied with what he’s done,” says Canyon pole vaulting coach Frank Rock, who’s been with the Cowboys since 1989. “One of the problems is he finds too much to be critical of in himself. I try to level that off and tell him you learn from the mistakes, the misses, and you learn from the triumph as well.”

Rock astutely points out that almost every pole vaulter will end the day in failure, when they miss a greater height and are knocked out of the competition.

“There’s the frustration,” Rock says.

Wolfe has worked through that with the help of his coaches and parents. He still has that tenacity when he vaults, only now it doesn’t consume him.

“It helps when you just calm down and realize that it’s not the end of the world,” Wolfe says. “There’s always something to take out of it, so I try and calm down.”

Wolfe has made several adjustments to his approach and technique over the years. Rock says he’s changed the height of Wolfe’s grip on different occasions, which helps him go higher.

Thanks to years of playing soccer at the AYSO level, Wolfe has built a good amount of speed that he now employs on the runway during vaults. He’s made mental changes, too.

“Now I really clear my mind,” he says. “I kind of tunnel vision myself. This is what I need to do. Just do it. Deep breath, and then I take off.”

He counts his steps and begins the vault in earnest when he’s two steps out, first swinging back and then rowing forward as he turns through the air.

It’s a very meticulous process, and it has to be. Wolfe still isn’t very tall — he stands just 5 feet, 2 inches — so clearing the bar requires, in essence, a controlled fling.

That’s why he’s so critical of himself. That’s also why he’s worked on building his strength.

“When we started, I think he could do seven or eight pull-ups,” Broneer says. “Now he can do 33. The word ‘quit,’ it doesn’t exist in him.”

Wolfe’s freshman year ended at the Foothill League frosh/soph finals, where he cleared 9-6 and finished sixth. As a sophomore, he became the frosh/soph league champion by going 11 feet.

Last season, Wolfe finished as the Foothill League varsity runner up behind Hart’s Kevin Felt at 13 feet, 6 inches.

Felt has since graduated, so there’s little standing in the way of Wolfe winning league. With his commitment, there’s little standing in the way of Wolfe achieving his goals.

In addition to making state, Wolfe wants to clear 15 feet, which will almost certainly be required to reach Clovis. That height appears to be well within his reach.

“He’s averaged 2-3 feet of growth a year,” Rock says. “It’s phenomenal for this event. He’s the most consistent vaulter I’ve ever worked with. He’s averaging 14 (feet) through the season, and that’s going to pay off soon.”

Even if it does, Wolfe’s prep career will be finished by early June at the latest.

So he’s talking to La Verne about continuing to vault. He’s changed the conversation.

“It’s really an odd feeling,” Wolfe says, reflecting on his freshman year. “It’s sort of déjà vu in a sense that I have to perform now. I need to succeed. But I’m glad that I did do track, because I do one of the hardest things in the world. It’s just special.”

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