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State track: With dad's help, Will Dudley sets goals high

Steve Dudley (left) and his son Will take a break from practicing to look over video footage of Will's practice vaults Tuesday at Trojan Field in Worthington.

WORTHINGTON -- Will Dudley's trip to the Class AA State Track and Field meet almost ended before it began.

"I actually kind of struggled at the (Section 2AA) meet a little bit," Dudley said. "I made my heights on the third time three times during the meet, which was kind of nerve- racking."

But when it came down to securing a trip to the state tournament or going home, Dudley had no trouble reaching his goals.

"On my state qualifying vault, I made it on my first attempt, which was a big relief," Dudley said. "Afterwards, I shared a hug with everybody and it felt really good."

One thing that makes Dudley's pole vaulting career different from so many others is the fact that all he needs to do to get ahold of his vaulting coach is yell down the hall.

"It has been really good to have my dad as my coach," Will said. "He isn't always up in my face when he's coaching. He knows when to lay off and let me be. Overall, I have really enjoyed it."

Steve Dudley, who went to state multiple times as a pole vaulter in high school, has been Will's vaulting coach since he picked up the sport in seventh grade. Will's older sisters were pole vaulters as well.

"The interesting thing about the pole vault from my view point is that you have to be a good athlete," said Steve. "You have to be fast and strong, but then you also have to have good technique to move the pole."

The best part of coaching his son, according to Steve, is getting to spend time with him and strengthen their relationship. However, Steve realizes that there is a fine line between being a father and being a coach.

"You have to be aware of it and there are some days you can push and some days you can't," Steve said. "Overall, it has worked very well for us. It has been good for our relationship and there hasn't been any stretch or problems."

One of the things Will learned early on was how important the little details are in the sport of pole vaulting. One false move can mean the difference between first and second place.

"Technique in general is one of the toughest things for anyone to learn in pole vaulting," Will said. "Repetition is really important, so you can work on getting the little things right."

At the beginning of the year, Dudley switched to a 15-foot pole for the first time. A longer pole allows pole vaulters to fly higher more easily.

"With a longer pole you can hold them higher; and the higher you can hold them, the higher you can go," Steve said. "Also, the heavier the pole, the more it throws you. The goal is to use as long of a pole and as stiff as possible, that way it throws you higher."

Since his first vault, Will set a goal for himself to make it to the state tournament. It may have taken him three years to reach that goal, but it isn't any less sweet now that he is there.

"It is relieving to finally make it to state," Will said. "It has been my goal for the past couple seasons, but I have come up short. I had a good feeling going into the meet (this year), so I just went and got it."

Now that he has reached that goal, Will just wants to go out and do his best at Friday's meet at Hamline University in St. Paul. And Steve couldn't be prouder of his son.

"I was really proud of him," Steve said. "It was a goal he has really been working toward and he has worked hard to get there. It is really satisfying to feel like he made it and the pressure is off of him now."

With the state pole vault event set to begin Friday morning, Will knows that there is only so much practicing he can do between now and then to prepare himself for the competition.

"At this point, it is all about height," Will said. "It there are guys who go 16 feet, there isn't anything I can do about that. I can only control what I can do and hopefully I will set a new personal best."

Placing in the event is not the only thing that matters to Will about the state meet. More than anything, he wants to match his abilities up against the best vaulters in Minnesota.

"It will be nice to see how good I am compared to everyone else in the competition," Will said. "Most of the meets this year, I have won and there haven't been a lot of other vaulters competing. So, I am looking forward to seeing the competition."

The Class AA State Track Meet begins Friday and continues through Saturday.