By Gary Kalahar (Photo by Ryan Kerwin, JTV Sports)
Alex Inosencio has some very lofty goals to reach in the next six weeks. And if anyone doubts he can reach them, well, they probably don’t know him very well.
Inosencio has his eyes on several significant achievements before he finishes his senior season as a pole vaulter on the Western High School track and field team. A look at how quickly he has progressed, and a conversation with him regarding the pole vault, is all that’s needed to see that his aim is realistic.
“Alex definitely has the talent to meet his goals,” said Jerry Sessions, coach at Landon Athletics, a club dedicated to the pole vault where Inosencio has trained for the last year and a half. “His biggest attribute is his positivity. If he continues to do what he’s doing, with hard work, he will achieve all his goals.”
Actually, the first two goals are already checked off. In just the third meet of the season, Inosencio cleared 15 feet, 1 inch. That broke Brad VanCalbergh’s school record that had stood for 22 years, and it qualified him for the New Balance outdoor national meet in Greensboro, N.C., in June. Next on the list, a state championship, a spot in the Midwest Meet of Champions, and a state record. The state meet record in Division 2, where Western competes, is 16 feet, 1 inch, and the record for all divisions is 16-6.
“I want to go somewhere north of 16-6 by the end of the year,” Inosencio said. “If I could hit 17, that would be great.”
If that sounds like heady stuff, consider the improvement Inosencio has made just in the last year. His best vault as a sophomore was 11-6. He said he wasn’t even reaching that high early last season, until he broke through and eventually reached 13-4 to place fifth in the state. This past winter, he cleared 15-3 ½ and won the indoor state championship.
“It is very difficult for most people to improve that much in such a short time frame,” Sessions said.
That quick ascent is due largely to Inosencio, in his words, “taking it seriously and actually trying to vault.” He took up the pole vault in sixth grade but had little coaching in the event until joining the renowned Landon Athletics during the winter of his junior year.
Inosencio was initially attracted to the pole vault because he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his cousin Devin Cole, a 2013 Western graduate.
“I always looked up to him,” Inosencio said. “He had the middle school record, and ever since fourth grade, whenever I saw him, I wanted to talk about pole vault. I would be saying, ‘Devin, I’m going to break the record.’ And I’ve wanted to get the (high school) school record since then.”
There was only one problem. Western didn’t have a pole vault expert on its coaching staff early in Inosencio’s career. His mentors were teammates two and three years ahead of him. He credits former Western vaulters including Drew Urbaniak, Brad Gauss, Andru Maynard and Chase Veydt with teaching him the ropes – in a manner of speaking.
“They took me under their wing, but it wasn’t in a nice way,” Inosencio recalled. “It was like, ‘You better get good. You better keep up with us.’ That motivated me.
“They taught me to bend a pole and run hard at the box. Some of the things we did were a little unorthodox. But they were a big motivation and a big help.”
Western coach Lucas Sponsler said Inosencio is helping carry on Western’s strong tradition in the pole vault.
“It’s been exciting to see Alex grow not only as a vaulter himself but also as a team leader,” Sponsler said. “They tend to feed off each other. They’re both supportive and competitive with one another.”
Inosencio claims he never had to overcome the fear that would seem natural about bending a fiberglass pole to launch oneself a story or more in the air.
“I’ve always thought it was fun,” he said. “I sprained an ankle on a landing my sophomore year. Even then, I thought it was so much fun. That was my first time bending a pole, so even though I sprained my ankle, I was still so excited.”
Inosencio’s go-getter personality is ideal for the pole vault, where going all out is rewarded and a combination of technique and athleticism leads to success.
“The mental traits we look for in younger vaulters include an almost defiant, reckless spirit,” Sponsler said. “They’re the kind of kids who like to jump off the neighbor’s garage. But there’s also an element of hyper-focus. Alex is an example of someone who, when he has something in his head like a puzzle or a challenge, he’s going to keep at it until he conquers it.”
Inosencio said a vaulter’s speed down the runway is crucial to clearing the bar.
“You have to have the mindset to go after it,” he said. “If you slow up at the box or slow up at all in your jumping, it’s not going to go well. You have to go at it as hard as you can. I’m not that orthodox a vaulter. My coach tells me the thing that helps me is that I go after it every time. Where I lack in technique, I make up for it.”
Zach Carpenter began coaching the Western pole vaulters, and then Inosencio really took off after he went to his first indoor meet in his junior year. He placed fourth – two feet below the third-place finisher – and the three in front of him were all training with Landon Athletics.
“Once I saw how good they were, I said, ‘I want to be that good. I have to go to that coach,’ “ Inosencio said. “I knew if I went there, I would be the worst person in the room. I try to have the mentality that if you’re the worst person in the room, you’re in the right room. That’s the only way you’ll improve. I went there because I knew they were all better than me.
“It was really humbling to see four or five girls there vaulting two or three feet higher than me. I was like, ‘What is going on?’”
Sessions said Inosencio’s desire to improve combined with his maturity at just the right time.
“Alex is totally focused on pole vaulting,” Sessions said. “That’s why he is achieving so much. The light bulb went on. All of a sudden, Alex was able to see his potential and that hard work pays off.”
If there is more improvement to come this spring, it will largely depend on Inosencio’s ability to refine his technique, particularly in planting the pole for takeoff. If he can do that, he can begin using longer poles – he currently uses poles up to 14-6 and would like to lengthen that to 15-6 by the end of the year – that would make it easier to reach higher.
Pole vaulters can enter the competition at a meet at any height. They have three attempts to clear a height before they can move up to the next height. Inosencio normally begins around a comfortable 12 feet. Depending on how his first vault feels, he may take his next attempt at 13 feet or even higher.
“It also depends on where everyone else is at and how I’m feeling,” he said. “I want to move (my opening height) up by the end of the season, because my coach tells me you have about eight good vaults in each competition. So I want to move that up so I have a better chance of doing good vaults at higher heights.”
Inosencio, who competed in three state meets for the Western tennis team and was a kicker on the football team in the fall, plans to become a dentist. He wants to continue pole vaulting in college, preferably as a walk-on at Michigan State.
“I love the sport,” he said. “It’s so much fun.”