Stegeman’s pole vault title an accomplishment years in the making

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Vaulter uses motivational goals to overcome disadvantages
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Suring’s Mitchell Stegeman competes in the Division 3 pole vault at the 2019 State Track and Field Championships on June 1. Stegeman became the first Suring pole vaulter to win a state title. (Times Herald photo by Morgan Rode)

Mitchell Stegeman enjoyed a memorable athletic career over his four years at Suring High School. He earned accolades for his play on the football field and several other awards on the basketball court before capping his track and field career by winning the Division 3 pole vault title at the 2019 State Championships on June 1.

The journey to Stegeman’s greatest individual athletic accomplishment started back when he was in fourth grade, when he started vaulting.

Other than his mom, Nancy, coaching the junior high school team, Stegeman had no other ties to pole vaulting.

“Some of my older friends were in it so I just went over by them and grabbed a pole,” Stegeman recalled.

While some schools have coaches dedicating all their attention to the unique skill that is pole vaulting, Stegeman did not have that luxury.

“Suring has never really had a vault coach so I learned the basics by just watching the older kids and listening to their coaches,” Stegeman said.

Soon after getting into pole vaulting, Stegeman set a goal of winning a state title.

He was able to reach state in the event as a sophomore and junior, taking 12th and tying for fifth, respectively. While some athletes would be thrilled just to reach state, Stegeman wasn’t satisfied.

Another factor working against Stegeman’s quest for a title was access to a place where he could practice vaulting.

Suring has a pole vault area, but it’s outdoors and was only available during the track and field season.

Last summer, Stegeman attended a camp at St. Norbert College — it was his only opportunity to actually practice vaulting before the spring season.

Instead of being able to work on his form and record his progress, Stegeman did other workouts to improve his speed and strength that were needed for the event.

Following the basketball season — when he was named player of the year in the Marinette & Oconto Conference — the weather delayed the start of vaulting even longer for Stegeman. Luckily, Oconto Falls had an indoor pit that he was able to utilize until the weather warmed up.

Yet another obstacle Stegeman faced throughout the season was a limited amount of top vaulters to go against. Stegeman was often taking first in the event by multiple feet.

To keep focused on his goal of winning a state title, he set a secondary goal going into the season to break the school record of 13 feet, 6 inches.

That goal didn’t take long to achieve, as Stegeman placed first at the indoor Rosholt/Badger Invitational at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point on March 29 — Stegeman’s first meet of the season.

While the season featured plenty of memorable evenings, there were times when Stegeman would not reach the heights he’d hoped for. So, he and his dad, Brian, would come to the track over the weekends to work on things the senior thought he struggled with.

To remain on track of attaining the goal of winning a state title, Stegeman continued to set new goals for himself after the school record goal was achieved. When he would accomplish a goal, he would quickly set another.

“My motivation in meets first came from wanting to break the school record. After I broke that, I wanted to get over 14. After I did that, I saw that there was a D3 vaulter that went 14-3. That gave me a goal to reach for until sectionals when I went 14-6,” Stegeman said.

His mark of 14-6 at the Marathon Sectional is the new school record that he will leave behind as he heads to college. Stegeman will compete for the UW-Eau Claire track and field team starting in the 2020 indoor season.

Stegeman hoped to clear 15 feet at the state meet, but his first-place finish after clearing 14 feet was still a historic one as he became the first Suring vaulter to ever win a state title.

“I am extremely honored to join the ranks of the other few Suring athletes that have won state, and being the first vaulter in Suring history to win state is an even bigger honor knowing some of the other vaulters that have gone through and not won state,” Stegeman said.

While the journey was a long and difficult one at times, having all the work pay off is still hard for Stegeman to fathom, even though it’s been his goal for several years.

“It has sunk in but when I think about it, it still seems surreal,” Stegeman said. “It has been a goal of mine to win state since early junior high and now that I look back, it really is a dream come true.”