PITTSBURG, Kan. — You can’t have a track and field season without saying this name at least once … Haven Lander.
Pitt State’s senior pole vaulter has become one of the most dominant pole vaulters across NCAA Division II. An indoor and outdoor national champion in 2019 — she also holds both the indoor (13-7) and outdoor (14-0.5) Pitt State pole vaulting records.
Lander graduated a semester early and had only planned to complete four years of school on top of track and be done, but then COVID-19 happened. Now Lander plans on using her extra year of eligibility while pursuing a master’s degree because she has a little bit of unfinished business.
The Republic, Mo., native has had a strong start to the indoor season this year, having won four straight pole vault events. Lander has also been named MIAA field athlete of the week twice and earned national recognition as the NCAA Division II track and field athlete of the week back in January.
“I had no intention of pole vaulting,” Lander said. “I literally just wanted to run. And I saw pole vault and they explained it, and just in my head I thought, ‘Oh, that sounds cool.’ So, I decided to give it a try and they were pretty much like, ‘Oh, just pick up a pole and jump, like just get yourself over the bar somehow.'”
Good thing Lander picked up that pole when she was 12 years old because she has become one of the top pole vaulters in the country.
“Anytime you have an athlete like that you just cherish it with the time you have because it’s not going to be here forever,” Pitt State associate track and field head coach Kyle Rutledge said. “So you just try to enjoy the little times, the little moments, and that’s what we have to do because eventually they do have to move on.”
It’s those little moments that have turned into some pretty big-time finishes, like Lander besting her own school record with her clearance of 13 feet, 7.75 inches at the Washburn All-Kansas Invitational. And each time Lander hits the runway, she’s always aiming for that next best height.
“It’s not really a celebratory thing until it’s a really, really big height for me,” Lander said. “… So it’s like it’s cool, and I’m really happy that I was able to improve, but I’m just ready for the next height after that.”
Rutledge put some perspective on Lander’s recent form and added that once you get into a rhythm, you know exactly what you have to do.
“You’re very confident and the records continue to fall,” he said.
It wasn’t originally the plan for Lander to come back with an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19. It also wasn’t her idea to pole vault in the first place. But four All-American titles later, Lander’s intent on placing as one of the best to ever do it.
“Not being able to have that season last year and seeing that I was stuck at four All-Americans, basically I thought to myself like, ‘No, I want those eight, I always wanted those eight,'” Lander said. “It was kind of like my unfinished business where I’m like I’m not done yet, but I still have more to do.”