As senior pole vaulter Bryce Kantak lined himself up to be exactly 71 feet from the pit, he checked the wind to make sure he would have a safe landing onto the mat below. He would be jumping 12 feet, hoping to glide over the bar with ease like he had done many times before. Kantak sprinted down the track, brought down the pole into the pit and took off, exactly like he had practiced. As soon as he was sprung into the air, he realized something had gone wrong.
“I planted the pole and must have turned it, which caused it to bend to the left which made me spring off to the right”, Kantak said. “I looked down in the air knowing I was about to hit the ground hard.”
The bruised hip Kantak suffered ended his Valley meet last track season. After landing on the metal piece that holds the bar, and then to the cement, Kantak was sidelined two weeks before he returned to jumping.
“Getting back to jumping was scary at first, but after doing it, it just felt natural,” Kantak said. His fall did not stop him from pole vaulting last year as he set a personal record of thirteen feet just two weeks after Valleys; a record he hopes to break this year.
“This season I want to set my personal record at fourteen feet, and make it to states,” Kantak said.
“My fall made me more cautious and aware about each and every jump, which will definitely help me going into this year.”
Head Coach Keith Seybert noted that watching Kantak overcome his injury last year was one of his favorite memories from last year.
“After going through his fall, seeing Bryce finish the season as the conference champion was a shining moment for him,” Seybert said.
“It really just showed his fortitude and practice and was a great example of battling through adversity.”
Keeping everyone injury free is one of Seybert’s goals this year, as the team faced an array of injuries last season.
“We’re hoping players can heal up in time for their events,” Seybert said.
Seybert credited his coaching staff in helping to get his athletes back to full health.
“I have great confidence in our coaching staff,” Seybert said
“I don’t know any other teams in the state who have as many coaches an volunteers out there day in and day out as we do. We are extremely lucky.”
With coaching and guidance being at an abundance at Midland High, leadership that had been lost from key athletes graduating last year, is already beginning to be seen.
“Every year is different, each group of athletes are different and every year when I lose my seniors, its kind of an empty spot,” Seybert said. “This year I can already see new leaders emerging within this group.”
Long distance runner Rachel Levy is gearing up for her senior season by focusing on her training outside of track.
“I have been doing a lot of cross training out of season (biking, swimming and lifting).”
Levy has learned to manage her workouts this year to improve and stabilize her stamina .
“There is a fine line between working hard and over working,” Levy said.
“I make sure to rest when I’m hurting and I have learned when to push harder and when to back off.”
Levy credits Coach Marty Hollenbeck on contributing to her improvement as a runner.
“You get an athlete like Rachel, where she gives 110% and sometimes that’s not a good thing,” Hollenbeck said.
“She’s learned to listen to her body and has realized when she needs to go fast and when she needs to go slow.”
Levy noted that working one on one with Coach Hollenbeck has been one of the most important parts of her preparations entering this season.
“Sunday Treadmill workouts with Coach Hollenbeck as well as running on my own has helped me going into this year too,” Levy said.
Training on the treadmill opposed to on the track created an environment for Levy to learn and get better this offseason.
“Instead of yelling from the other side of the track, on the treadmill I can be standing there next to her and it’s such a great teaching tool,” Hollenbeck said.
“I’m really excited about Rachel’s possibilities this season, she’s a lot stronger this year and is an incredibly hard worker.”
In order to watch his son run at Alma, Hollenbeck diminished his role from an official coach to a volunteer.
Hollenbeck noted that while he realizes his role as a coach was important, he enjoys his current position even more.
“What happens as a head coach with 120 athletes, is that I was always doing paperwork, or dealing with parents and uniforms,” Hollenbeck said.
“Now I just get to coach, and it rocks.”
Specializing in the two or three events like the quarter mile or the half mile has been beneficial on Hollenbeck’s part, as well as the athletes.
“It’s much more fun, and much more rewarding working with the athletes individually.”
For junior Rebekah Walter, setting a school record last year was just the beginning to her success in track. Walter competes in the 300 meter hurdles, the 4×400, 4×2000, and 4×100 meter relay. Last year at states she placed fifth for the 300 meter hurdles in 45.08 seconds and broke the school record in the 4×400 meter relay by placing sixth in the state in 3.58 minutes.
She hopes her success last year will her into an even better track season this year. This season Walter will look to set another record by completing the 300 meter hurdles in less than 44.29 seconds.
“Setting the 4×400 school record last year at states was a great feeling,” Walter said.
“I’m looking forward to another amazing, fun season with my hurdle family.”
Written by Sam Robinson and Ericka Reder in the March 27, 2015 issue of Focus.