This Saturday’s NCAA Championships are next stop toward making that goal a reality for Venezuelan Keisa Monterola
After rolling through Big Sky Conference competition in the women’s pole vault, Eastern Washington University’s Keisa (KAY-suh) Monterola has her eyes set on something much bigger.
As a first-year Eagle, Monterola has taken the conference by storm. The Venezuelan native has won every competition she has entered by a staggering amount, including the UW Team Invitational on Jan. 28, where she broke the Big Sky record with a jump of 14-4.
But now Monterola wants to hit a new mark at this week’s NCAA Championships in Boise, Idaho. She wants to hit the Olympic-B qualifying mark of 14-5 1/4, which would all but guarantee her the opportunity to represent her home country of Venezuela in the 2012 London Olympic Games.
“From the beginning, we’ve been shooting to get her to the NCAA Championships,” said EWU vault coach Eric Allison. “We kind of put the National record (14-11) as our goal from there. But her goal is to make the Olympics, and she knows what it’s going to take to get there.”
She will try and extend her winning streak Saturday (March 10) at Boise State University. Currently, Monterola ranks in a tie for third among pole vault entrants with her 14-4 mark. Tina Sutej from Arkansas, the NCAA national record holder, holds the top spot with 14-11.
Even if she doesn’t win the national title, she can become an Eastern All-American selection – the first female from EWU – by finishing in the top 16. A top-eight finish will give her First-Team All-American honors, while finishing ninth through 16th will put her on the second team. Only Kurt Kraemer has accomplished that feat since Eastern moved to NCAA Division I in the early 1980s. Kraemer placed ninth in the triple jump in 2001.
Because of her accomplishments and aspirations, Allison thinks she deserves more attention.
“People don’t know how good Keisa really is,” he said. “Having Keisa here in Cheney gives Eastern supporters a chance to come out and watch a future Olympian compete in an Eastern jersey. That’s very rare. You don’t get a chance to see another Rodney Stuckey (Former EWU player, now playing for the Detroit Pistons in the NBA) on our campus that often, so it’s a pretty big deal.”
So just how good is Monterola?
To put the marks of this week’s competitors in perspective, Monterola’s current best of 14-4 would have placed 21st at the 2008 Olympic Games. Sutej’s mark of 14-11 would have put her in a tie for tenth place.
“Her goal is to make the Olympics, and to make the finals,” added Allison. “I think that’s a reasonable goal and it’s something we can achieve.”
Watch Monterola at the NCAA Division I Championships
The 2012 NCAA Division I Indoor Championships will be broadcasted via a live stream on ESPN 3. Monterola’s event, the pole vault, is scheduled to start at 4 p.m., pacific time.
How Did She End Up An Eagle?
The native of Caracas, Venezuela, has been pole vaulting since she was 12 years old. When she first started getting attention from colleges in the U.S., the University of Washington seemed to be the front-runner. But Monterola ended up at Clackamas Community College for two years. Then, thanks to relationships built amongst coaches from Clackamas and Eastern, Monterola transferred to EWU to wear the red and white.
“They’ve sent several athletes to Eastern in the past because we have similar coaching philosophies, which makes the transition for athletes easier,” said Allison. “Once Keisa got here, she had a good time and saw things she liked. It worked out in our favor.”
Monterola admits it was a tough transition for her when she transferred. Going from one coach to a new one is never easy.
“I had to be really patient at the start,” admitted Monterola. “Transitioning from one coach to another can be really hard sometimes; every coach can be different. I knew I was going to have some frustrations, and I did, but it wasn’t too bad and I got over them quickly. Eastern has been good. We’ve been working really hard and I’ve been getting better.”
Coach Eric Allison on Keisa
“She works hard. She knows her goals and she knows herself. She’s very self-motivated – we just have to make sure she has everything she needs to be successful.”
“It’s great having her at EWU. It brings effort to another level for everybody. It’s good having her here to work, because it’s fun and challenging for everyone. It shows other athletes the next step they can get to, and helps them make their dreams a little more realistic.”
Her Eastern Career
Monterola broke the Big Sky Conference indoor record for the women’s pole vault on Jan. 28, with a jump of 14-4 at the UW Team Invitational in Seattle, Wash. The previous record was 14-1 1/4 set by Elouise Rudy of Montana State in 2008. The jump automatically qualified Monterola for the NCAA Championships on Mar. 9 in Boise, Idaho.
“I didn’t even know I broke (the conference record) at the moment,” she explained. “I was just doing my thing and focused on breaking my personal record. But when Eric told me what I did, I was like “Really? I just did that?” I’m excited and happy about it, and hopefully I will break it again soon”
Along with breaking the Big Sky record, Monterola improved on her own EWU school record of 13-11 1/4, as well as the indoor Venezuelan record. Monterola made her Eastern debut on Dec. 3 at the Candy Cane Invitational.
Monterola won the Big Sky Conference title in the pole vault with an effort of 14-2 on Feb. 25 in Flagstaff, Ariz. For her performance – which broke the previous Big Sky Championship record of 14-1 1/4 – she was named the Athlete of the Meet. Monterola was a three-time Big Sky women’s Field Athlete of the Week during the 2011-12 indoor season.
The Clackamas Community College transfer is now just a heartbeat away from the Olympic B-standard of 14-5 1/4.
Monterola’s Performances in the 2011-12
13-11 1/4 (1st place) – Dec. 3, 2011 at the Candy Cane Invitational in Cheney, Wash.
--New EWU School Record
13-7 3/4 (1st) – Jan. 14, 2012, at the UW Indoor Preview
in Seattle, Wash.
14-4 (1st) – Jan. 28, 2012, at the UW Team Invitational in Seattle, Wash.
-- New Big Sky Conference All-Time Indoor Record & New EWU School Record
13-5 1/4 (1st) – Feb. 4, 2012, at the University of Idaho
Open in Moscow, Idaho
14-2 (1st) – Feb. 12, 2012, at the UW Invite in Seattle, Wash.
13-11 1/4 (1st) – Feb. 18, 2012, at the Vandal Collegiate
in Moscow, Idaho
14-2 (1st) – Feb. 25, 2012, at the Big Sky Conference Indoor Championships in Flagstaff, Ariz
-- New Big Sky Conference Indoor Championship Record & Named Most Outstanding Athlete
Her Clackamas Career
Monterola placed first in the pole vault at the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges (NWAACC) Championships while competing for Clackamas Community College. She had a personal-best vault of 14-2 1/2 – a mark that improved her Venezuelan national record. She also placed first in the long jump with a mark of 18-0 1/2.
Monterola also claimed titles at the 2009 NWAACC Championships in the pole vault (12-8 1/4) and the long jump (17-8 1/4).
Her National Career
While utilizing her redshirt season in 2010, Monterola won the gold medal at the Central America and Caribbean Games, where she set the games record with a mark of 13-9 1/4. In high school, Monterola was the 2005 IAAF World Youth silver medalist and South American Junior Champion. She cleared 13-11 1/4 in both competitions, setting new meet records in both.
Monterola is also the owner of the Venezuela national record. She has competed for her country on numerous occasions, including the Pan American Games this in fall of 2012. She placed fifth with a mark of 14-1 1/4.