Hixson soars to record heights at GVSU

Tate Baker

The Grand Valley State University women’s track and field program has had an All-American pole-vaulter in every year since 2005, and that streak figures to stay intact this season with two-time national champion pole-vaulter Kristen Hixson leading the way in her senior season.

Hixson posted a height of 4.15 meters in her first meet of the indoor season, which not only earned her an automatic qualifying mark but also a trip to the NCAA Division II Indoor National Championships on March 14 and 15 in Salem, N.C.

“That was really remarkable for her to open up her season in that fashion,” said classmate and roommate Caley Faulkner. “We are constantly pushing each other in practice — and it’s showing.”

She was named a GLIAC Women’s Indoor Field Athlete of the Week on Jan. 23.

It seems the Remus, Mich., native’s knack for paying attention to detail began a long time ago.

“When I was in high school, the fact that GVSU had such an accomplished pole vaulting program was one of the main reasons I wanted to be a Laker,” she said. “Coach Andreadis does an amazing job of improving us in his program. He really focuses on us taking small steps, which allows us to make consistent improvements.”

She began her career as a freshman with a second-place finish at the 2011 GLIAC Indoor Championships before finishing her first indoor campaign with a fourth-place finish at the DII National Championships.

She then burst on the scene in the spring by winning the GLIAC outdoor championships by clearing a height of 3.87 meters. She duplicated her 3.87-meter performance weeks later at the DII National Championships, which was good enough for a second-place finish.

“My first year of collegiate track was a big learning curve for me,” she said. “It was so much more work than high school, but toward the end of the year it really paid off. I was somewhat shocked of how well I did in my first year.”

It wasn’t until her sophomore season that she decided to dedicate the majority of her time to pole-vaulting and removed herself from future pentathlons.

The decision may have allowed her to make her biggest leap forward as an athlete, because she went on to win both the indoor and outdoor national championships with vaults of 4.00 and 4.15 meters.

She also finished second in the pole vault at the 2012 GLIAC Indoor Championships and then went on to win her second GLIAC pole vault title of her career in the spring at the GLIAC Outdoor Championships.

“Once she got a feel for the program and what she had to do to be successful is really when she made her big leap forward,” head coach Jerry Baltes said. “We all knew what type of potential she had. It was really fulfilling for her to reach that point of success in that point of her career.”

Her junior season was a bit of a set back because she was unable to defend her conference or national titles, but she continued to improve.

She reached heights of 4.23 meters in the 2013 GLIAC Indoor Championships and 4.25 meters in the spring at the GLIAC Outdoor Championships.

“My junior season was somewhat disappointing, especially (with) all the success that I had in my sophomore season,” she said. “However, it has given me extra motivation for this season. Finishing my career with another couple of national championships to go along with another team national championship would be great.”

She has certainly accumulated a ridiculous amount of accolades in her first three seasons as a Laker: two national titles, two conference championships, six separate All-American honors, four team championships at the national level, and all women’s pole vault records at GVSU.

Perhaps the most outstanding accomplishment, however, was her ability to maintain a 3.96 GPA in finance, which led to her being tabbed as the 2013 Academic All-American of the Year.

“Receiving that honor was quite fulfilling,” she said. “I don’t want my academic achievements to be overshadowed by my performances in pole vault. It was an amazing feeling to be recognized for all my hard work in school as well.”

Whether or not Hixson finishes her GVSU career with one, two or three more athletic accolades, she will be recognized as one of the most decorated women’s pole vaulter ever to put on a Laker uniform, and more importantly, as a graduate who excelled on and off the athletic field.