Jacob Sanders wanted to create a place where local track and field athletes could work on getting better at pole vault and not have to travel out of state to do so.
The 2011 Winters Mill High School graduate, a sprinter in his varsity days, learned how to coach pole vaulters once he graduated. But other than being available at high school practices, Sanders didn’t think he was getting to train them properly. So he created Sandstorm Vault, a club that gives local vaulters a chance during the summer months to work on their technique and improve their heights.
Sandstorm holds practices at Francis Scott Key three days a week, and Sanders takes his sessions to Dulaney High and the Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex two days a week. Sanders was part of FSK track coach Juan Cortez’s staff this spring, and said he got the go-ahead from athletic director Troy Warehime to store poles and use the school’s stadium for Sandstorm practices.
Sandstorm holds practices in the winter at Carroll Indoor Sports Center in Westminster, said Sanders, who spent time coaching track at his alma mater and Westminster High before doing it at the college level — albeit in unique fashion.
“York College kept trying to recruit athletes from [the area], so then I pitched myself as ... ‘Hey, if you’re going to take all of our athletes, why don’t you take me as a coach?’” said Sanders, who soon realized his home state was lacking on the pole vault club scene.
“So I was like, well, let me help out,” he said. “We’re not just here to stay sharp. We’re here to make them better.”
Sanders charges $20 per session, according to the Sandstorm Vault website, or $70 per month for once-a-week training. Sandstorm costs $100 per month for unlimited sessions, and private lessons are $40.
It’s money well spent, said recent Westminster grad Joey Petrowicz.
“It’s awesome that we have, finally, the vaulters in this area instead of having all the high schools separated,” Petrowicz said at a recent session. “And we have a surplus of poles available.”
Petrowicz won the Class 3A West Region meet pole vault title in May, and was the county champion during the indoor track season last winter. He set a personal record when he reached 13 feet, 9 inches at the regional meet this spring.
Petrowicz and Ethan Bishop, a recent Mount Hebron graduate, took turns vaulting at their Sandstorm practice while Sanders and Westminster resident Tara Coyne, an incoming senior at Maryvale Prep in Lutherville, worked on Coyne’s form and pole position.
Cortez even showed up at the practice, and posted his own attempts at clearing 8 feet.
Running down the lane with 20 pounds of extended pole, then lodging it into the socket at the base of the pit and using enough force to carry yourself over the bar and onto the mat below, isn’t done right without plenty of work.
“I haven’t been vaulting with them as long as they have vaulted together,” Petrowicz said. “I graduated a few months ago. Once I did that, I kind of stopped track a little bit. I focused on trying to get a career of firefighting. That’s where my passion is at. But I still love the sport, and I know these guys are working hard as can be.”
Sanders pointed to Petrowicz, Coyne, and Bishop as regular Sandstorm “beasts,” vaulters who have seen their heights soar and enjoyed success.
Coyne cleared 10-6 — her PR — to win the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland Outdoor Track & Field Championship pole vault crown in mid-May.
Bishop was vaulting around 8 to 9 feet with consistency as a junior in 2018. This spring, he surpassed 10-6 to win the 3A East meet title and place sixth at the state meet. Bishop also took second (11-0) at the Howard County meet this season.
Sandstorm has a summer track meet schedule, with a trip set for July 27 at Vertical Assault in Bath, Pennsylvania, and another meet Aug. 3-4 in New Jersey.
For vaulters such as Petrowicz, seeing the local club grow means more than a PR or gold medal.
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“Being able to share the skill set that I’ve acquired throughout my years of pole vaulting to a younger generation like we have here? It’s the best thing I can possibly do for everyone," he said. “I’m excited to be able to do that.”