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Votapka third in NAIA nationals to close out college career

Lane Votapka closed out his college track and field career with a pole vault of 4.90 meters, or 16’ 3/4”, at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics track and field national championships May 21-23 in Edwardsville, IL, to place third among all NAIA vaulters.

Votapka, a 2005 Fallbrook High School graduate who attended Point Loma Nazarene University, tied for the second-highest pole vault at the NAIA nationals, although Brian Schenavar was awarded second place on fewer missed jumps at that level.

Although Jordan Savidge of Azusa Pacific University won the NAIA championship as well as the Golden State Athletic Conference championship, Votapka’s vault exceeded the 4.85-meter (15’11”) distance which gave Southern Oregon’s Ryan Musselman last year’s NAIA championship.

“I’m okay with that,” Votapka said of third place. “It’s an honor.”

Votapka won last year’s GSAC championship, but Savidge was a junior college national champion before transferring to Azusa Pacific.

During the GSAC meet April 24-25 at Point Loma, Savidge cleared 5.00 meters, or 16’ 4 3/4”, to win the 2009 championship while Votapka settled for second with a distance of 4.90 meters, or 16’ 3/4”.

“It just didn’t happen,” Votapka said.

“He lived up to his billing,” Point Loma head track and field coach Jerry Arvin said of Votapka. “He definitely did not come in as the favorite.”

In 2007, Votapka cleared 14’11” to win the GSAC championship, and in 2008 he won the GSAC title with a vault of 4.65 meters (15’3”).

“I had it for two years, so I still consider myself GSAC champion,” he said.

His distance at the GSAC meet April 24 was Votapka’s best of the 2009 season – and his career – until he matched it at the NAIA nationals.

“This year was the year I trained harder than I’ve ever trained,” Votapka said. “I got in more work than what might be considered average.”

“I really wanted to win and I really was convinced I could,” he said.

Savidge was able to clear 5.05 meters (16’ 6 3/4”), but Schenavar and Votapka were unsuccessful at that distance.

“The pole wasn’t giving me as much,” Votapka said. “Didn’t give me that extra kick.”

Votapka had cleared 16 1/2 feet in practice. “It just never came out at a meet,” he said.

Arvin puts the emphasis on Votapka clearing 4.90 meters rather than failing to clear 5.05 meters.

“He was sick at the time, too,” Arvin said. “He wasn’t his normal self physically.”

Arvin believes that the illness kept Votapka from achieving a height which would have matched Savidge’s.

“He knows what he can do,” Arvin said. “He wanted to get on the bigger pole and just didn’t have the strength at the time.”

Arvin also noted that the pole vault took place at noon Central time, which equates to 10 a.m. Pacific time. “He’s probably not used to vaulting at ten in the morning,” Arvin said.

The top six vaulters earned NAIA All-American status. “I guess the hard work paid off,” Votapka said.

That made Votapka a two-time NAIA All-American. “It’s just an honor. What a neat thing,” Votapka said. “I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to go for it twice.”

“We don’t get too many of those,” Arvin said. “ very, very pleased with him.”

Point Loma had a total of 15 All-Americans at the 2009 NAIA nationals, which is a school record. “The kids just did a great job,” Arvin said. “They all believe in themselves.”

Votapka was one of two Point Loma vaulters to qualify for the NAIA nationals in the men’s pole vault, although Anthony Winstead failed to clear the initial 4.60-meter height.

“I thought our vault coach [Shane Peterson] did a pretty good job,” Arvin said.

“On a track team pole vault is such a unique thing,” Votapka said. “There’s a special brotherhood between pole vaulters. It even stretches between teams sometimes.”

While Votapka gives credit to Peterson, he also acknowledges the contribution of Fallbrook High School vaulting coach Jim Curran.

“He taught me everything I know about the pole vault,” Votapka said. “He was the one who got me started.”

He also credits high school assistant coach Jason Rice. “It’s just a really fun thing being on a pole vault squad,” he said.

Votapka’s enjoyment continued after he advanced to the college level. “I made a lot of good friends,” he said of his Point Loma teammates. “I’ll miss them a lot.”

He also gives credit to Arvin. “He was just a great friend, great mentor,” he said. “He was always there for every practice.”

Gary and Susan Votapka now have a pole vault facility on their property. “The most supportive people of all have been my family. They’ve been to every single track meet,” Votapka said of his parents.

His sister, Katie, now attends Concordia University, although she was not on the track and field team in 2009 and she attended many of her brother’s meets.

Votapka’s parents and many other family members attended the NAIA nationals. “My family has been the best,” he said.

Arvin notes that without Votapka’s effort the success wouldn’t have happened regardless of support from coaches and family. “He made himself very good at it,” Arvin said.

“Lane’s a typical leader for our team, academically, spiritually, and by example,” Arvin said. “He’s just been a great kid for four years here.”

Votapka was also named an NAIA scholar-athlete. “He’s a great student, good Christian young man,” Arvin said. “I’m going to miss him.”

Votapka’s days with the Point Loma track and field team – and possibly even the Fallbrook High School track and field team – aren’t necessarily over.

“What I really want to do is coach it some day,” he said. “I think that would be really neat if I could make it work.”

On May 16, Votapka graduated from Point Loma with a degree in biology. His plans to work for the County of San Diego on West Nile virus control and to volunteer at a bioinformatics laboratory – likely at the Scripps Institute – are intended to clear a path toward graduate school in bioinformatics, most likely at the University of California, San Diego.

“I wish I could just continue pole vaulting for fun,” Votapka said. “But it takes so much training.”

If he has the time to train, he will compete as an unattached vaulter at meets. “I have a feeling that my high-flying days are over,” he said.

Coaching would soften the potential end to his competitive vaulting career. “It’s such a cool sport. I don’t think I could just walk away from it forever,” he said. “I loved it so much and it would be a shame if I wasn’t able to help someone out.”


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