HELENA — Carroll College freshman Kelsey Bassett took a deep breath before she landed a vault of 3.7 meters.
It didn’t take long for her look of determination to turn into a smile Friday afternoon.
Bassett won the event, punching her ticket to the NAIA National Track meet during Trudnowski Open, Carroll's only home track meet of the season at Vigilante Stadium.
It might seem like she has been vaulting her whole life, but it has been only four years.
“I was a gymnast for ten years, but I ended up with a back injury that forced me to retire from the sport,” Bassett said. “It was hard for me to quit.”
However, she needed her back to heal. She suffered three fractures from overuse.
“It was so physically demanding,” Bassett said.
During her sophomore year at Granite Falls High, located 40 miles north of Seattle, she picked up a pole used to vault with.
That year, she finished sixth at the 2A State Championship Meet. Two years later, she was a state champion with a vault of 12 feet, 6 inches.
“I have a sense that I don’t think I would have had if I didn’t do gymnastics,” Bassett said. “There are a lot of the same mechanics.”
After she was recruited to vault for Carroll, it didn’t take her long to get recognized when she finished in fifth place at the NAIA Indoor Championships in Brookings, South Dakota.
“They have the drive and the want-to,” Carroll coach Harry Clark said. “You have to be a little bit nutty to be a pole vaulter.”
The first time Bassett qualified for outdoor nationals, teammate Shae Helterbran was one of the first to congratulate her.
After all, Helterbran will be competing right alongside Bassett after Helterbran’s vault of 3.6 meters.
Last season she went as an alternate, but deep down she knew she could have done better.
“This is awesome,” Helterbran said. “A little part of me thought coach took me last season because he wanted to light a fire under me, and it worked. I’m so excited.”
Helterbran felt she had struggled in her previous meets, but after clearing a few vaults at home, her confidence grew.
“I tend to psych myself out a lot,” Helterbran said. “I went in not thinking about if it was going to be a qualifier or not.”
Both underclassmen will wrap up their regular season with meets in Great Falls and Bozeman this next week before heading out to nationals on May 23.
Sophomore Nikki Kreuger qualified in the shot put. Her throw of 13.86 meters was the best of the day during the five-participant women’s event, and afterward, she said she liked how working on her form has paid off.
“Over the last few weeks I have been working on my back circle to my mid,” Krueger said. “It paid off today.”
Carroll throws coach Jimmy Stanton said her form has been looking perfect over the last few weeks.
“We moved her from glide to rotation,” Stanton said. “It has only been six weeks from the transition, and the amount of gain she has been able to make has been incredible.”
While Krueger has been successful this season, that doesn’t mean she is content. She said her new goal is to throw upwards to 50 feet.
“I know I can do better,” Krueger said. “I just have to challenge myself.”
Both Carroll track and field teams finished the meet first overall as they competed against Rocky Mountain, Providence and Montana Western.
The men’s team finished with 105 points and saw notable first-place finishes by the 4x400 relay team, Alex Olmes in the 400 meters, Noah Majerus in the 800, Kuda Nyahuma in the 200, Shamrock Campbell in the long jump and Garrett Kocab in the discus.
Chad Hemsley ran the 400 hurdles in 54.48 to qualify for the national meet. Josh Malone qualified in the decathlon and the individual events of the long jump and high jump.
The women’s team scored 102 points and saw notable first-place finishes by the 4x100 relay team, Brooke Endy in the 200, Reilly Rostad in the long jump, Kenna Guenther in the triple jump and Krueger in the discus.
“This was a fun meet,” Clark said. “The weather started pretty bad, but we had some great performances and excited to move on.”