The men in the Cahoy family have no fear of leaving their feet.
Or so it seems with Grand Island pole vaulters Steven Cahoy and younger brother Kevin, sons of 1980 U.S. Olympic gymnast Phil Cahoy.
While Kevin, a freshman, has been vaulting since middle school, what Steven has accomplished in four months — repeat, four months — has never happened in Nebraska and highly unlikely anywhere else.
At last week’s Heartland Conference meet in Lincoln, the 6-foot-1 junior became the ninth vaulter to clear 16 feet and is tied for fifth on the state’s all-time chart.
“This is something you never see,” said Geoff Cyboron, Grand Island’s vault coach. “It’s all been pretty exciting. He came out of nowhere.”
Baseball and football had been Steven’s sports in high school. He’s a two-year letterman in football and he’ll return to baseball this summer as a third baseman with Grand Island’s American Legion team.
His only prior track and field experience was as a sprinter in middle school. He was a gymnast until the fifth grade, he said, when he decided that football was his favorite sport.
Kevin also was in gymnastics, and his success got Diana Cahoy believing that Steven should consider vaulting.
“My wife must have seen it better than I did,” said Phil Cahoy, who’s an orthopedic surgeon in Grand Island. “I wasn’t as sure, but I guess I had the wrong idea.”
Steven gave in to his mother. He went with his brother and Cyboron to a “street meet” last July in Aurora, asking the coach during the car ride if he could try vaulting. After getting a few fast pointers from Cyboron, he cleared 12 feet with a bungee cord in place of the crossbar.
“It was an adrenaline rush,” Steven said. “Wow, this is really fun.”
In January, he decided to switch from baseball to vaulting. The Cahoy brothers went to workouts Wednesday nights at NU with Husker pole vault coach Kris Grimes and Sundays at Hastings College with Dave McNeel, who coaches vaulting at Grand Island Northwest.
“It was the little bit of preparation Steven needed,” Cyboron said. “At Hastings, he cleared 13 feet one week, 14 the second week and 15 the third.
“A foot a week, I’ve seen nothing like it. His brother is the closest thing. On day one for Kevin as a seventh-grader, he was able to go 10-6. And then to see Steven pick up a pole and go 12 feet, both are pretty special.”
At Grand Island’s first meet this spring, Steven cleared 15-1 for the Islanders’ school record. Two weeks later, he made 15-6 at the Grand Island Invitational and a try at 15-10 probably should have counted — he was on the way down when the crossbar blew off, observers said.
He was stuck at 15-6 until last week’s Heartland meet.
“We were trying for the big jumps without taking the little steps,” Steven said. “At Lincoln, we took the little steps to get to the 16 mark.”
Cahoy’s form resembles that of a gymnast’s double-leg swings, a stark difference from the knee drives of most vaulters. It’s similar, Cyboron said, to that of 2009 NCAA champion Jason Colwick of Rice — who also has a gymnastics background.
While Cahoy’s coaches won’t try to change his form in high school, they will emphasize improving how he uses his left arm when he plants the pole. It will help the pole move better and get him more vertical.
Cyboron said Cahoy continually needs longer poles, which are rated for a competitor’s weight. The coach picked up three poles before the Heartland meet, but Cahoy has gone through those.
He’ll stay with last week’s pole for Wednesday’s district meet in Grand Island, Cyboron said, but the plan for next week’s state meet at Burke Stadium is to use a pole borrowed from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Cahoy could need it to hit his target of 16-7, breaking the state record Beatrice’s Seth Burney set in 2007.
“The last kid to vault on it was Mike Ford and he made 17-3,” Cyboron said. “If Steven knows that, maybe he’ll go 17-4.”
Anyone looking for a sibling rivalry won’t find it with the Cahoys. Kevin’s best is 14 feet, which Cyboron said is among the best marks nationally for freshmen and is tied for fourth in Class A.
“He’s really happy for me and we encourage each other a lot,” Steven said.
Cyboron said Steven has been good in pulling along his brother and senior Allen Phengmarath, whose season best is 13-10.
“We expected Kevin to be in contention for state but he has to compete with his brother, too,” Cyboron said. “If things work out right, they could do something pretty special at state.”
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