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Track & Field:Spurred by Mondo Duplantis, pole vaulter Cole Courtois leads Cajuns at NCAA track meet

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, June 9, 2021

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Cole Courtois doesn’t have to look far for motivation to be one of the nation’s top pole vaulters.

The UL junior has long lived in the shadow of his sport’s best, world record holder Armand “Mondo” Duplantis, a Lafayette High product who represents Sweden.

“I’ve competed against him since I was around 12 years old,” Courtois said, “so that definitely … makes me want to train a little bit harder.”

Courtois, a Westgate High product from New Iberia, gets a chance to show he, too, is among pole vaulting’s elite on W  at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Eugene, Oregon.

It won’t be the first time Courtois, who qualified by clearing 17 feet, 6½ inches, will participate in the NCAA meet.

He reached the same height in Eugene while representing Louisiana Tech as Conference USA champion in 2019.

From Lafayette High:Mondo Duplantis breaks outdoor pole vault world record

Another Mighty Lion:How UL basketball signee Jalen Dalcourt took long road home

“Going back, it’s something I really appreciate, because seeing all the athletes at nationals, it’s a completely different level,” Courtois said. “At least in my opinion it makes every athlete want to be better.”

Courtois is among a contingent that’s the largest UL has sent to an NCAA meet since the 1990s.

Javelin thrower Maria Bienvenu, 110-meters hurdler Yves Cherubin and the 4×100 relay team of Kennedy London, Ta’La Spates, Serenity Rogers, Kiana Foster and alternate Johneisha George also are there.

From basketball to track

Bienvenu, a freshman from St. Mary’s in Natchitoches, qualified with a personal-best throw of 167-10 on her first attempt at the NCAA East Preliminary in Jacksonville, Florida.

She started throwing after winning MVP honors while leading St. Mary’s to a 2020 Division IV basketball state championship.

“But with COVID there wasn’t much track going on,” she said, “so coming here it was really new to me.

“But (assistant) Coach Terry (Hughes) and all my teammates, they really helped me understand the world of track and pushed me. I just used that to motivate me, and just kind of figure it out from there.”

More:Bienvenu leads Class 1A All-State basketball teams

‘That looks a little scary’

Cherubin ran 13.65 seconds to qualify, breaking a UL record set by Larry Moore in 1992 and becoming the first Ragin’ Cajuns hurdler to advance to the national championships since Winston Sinclair went at 400 meters in ’94.

“For me it’s a huge accomplishment, because I come from juco,” said Cherubin, a transfer from Pratt Community College in Kansas. “This is all new to me, because … I’m competing against the best.”

Cherubin, a Haitian-born NJCAA All-American who also played soccer at Pratt, didn’t start running hurdles until trying out for the track team his junior year at Coral Glades High in Coral Springs, Florida.

“One of my friends was like, ‘Bro’ come do hurdles with me,’ ” he said. “I was like, ‘That’s looks a little scary. I don’t want to hit myself and fall.’

“He was like, ‘Just come try it.’ I tried it. I went to our first meet, got first place, got some medals and I was happy with it.”

In 2019:Mixon, Singuineau lift UL on opening day of SBC indoor track and field meet

‘It’s very humbling’

The relay was thrilled to qualify with a school-record time (44.39), breaking a mark (44.80) that had stood since 1993.

“We all wanted it so bad,” Rogers said.

“It’s very humbling,” Spates added, “because not a lot of teams could say they were able to that.”

No relay team member has competed in college for more than two years.

“They went to the Regional meet and said … they just weren’t going to be stopped,” said coach Lon Badeaux, who’s never taken so many entrants to an NCAA meet in 10 seasons at UL.

The foursome came within .01 of UL’s record when it won the Texas Relays in March, then worked all season to get under 44.80.

“When I crossed the line and (saw) 44.39, I was like, ‘Ooh, we got the record,’ ” Foster said. “I didn’t think, ‘Ooh, we made it to nationals.’ ”

“It kind of wasn’t expected for us to make it,” London added, “so it’s good.”

A ‘mind-blowing’ experience

What’s really good for Courtois is that now he has an opportunity to make a name for himself nationally.

After clearing a personal-record 17-7¼ in 2018, then placing 18th at the 2019 NCAA meet to win All-America honorable mention, he’s still far off Duplantis’ world markof 20-2 ¾ set indoors in February 2020 at a meet in Glasgow, Sweden.

Representing Sweden:Mondo Duplantis must wait for Olympic glory

Having experienced Eugene once should help this time.

“Last time it was mind-blowing,” said Courtois, who hopes to earn first team All-American honors. “The whole time I probably had butterflies in my stomach.

“It was really nerve wracking, but once I got into the grove of the competition it was a completely different competition than it is when it’s just a regular track meet, because you’re really pushing your limits.”