Pole Vaulter Luke Knipe Leaps His Way Into Penn State History
Luke Knipe was made to set records for Penn State.
A Happy Valley native from Boalsburg, the junior Nittany Lions star now finds himself just minutes from home. He also often finds himself atop the record books for Penn State’s pole vaulting crew.
Over the past two seasons, Knipe has set three indoor pole vaulting records for his program, including a 5.40-meter jump to win the silver medal at the Big Ten Indoor Championships. Impressive now, Knipe has always put up astounding numbers in his pole vaulting career.
Knipe starting jumped in the seventh grade, though he admits he wasn’t very interested in it for a while. All the same, he recorded impressive heights even while in middle school. After jumping above 6′ in his first year, Knipe quickly progressed to a near 10′ height before leaving junior high.
After seeing some improvement, Knipe found himself more and more drawn to the sport as he realized his potential.
“I had some success with it. I would say that eighth-grade year, I started to realize I might be able to be pretty good at it,” he said. “Not that like 9’6″ was crazy, but the high school coach was excited about me coming out, and I always liked track.”
Heading into high school, Knipe continued to see his heights grow and grow even though he was initially jumping off the wrong side of his body. While he began jumping right-handed, Knipe reversed his placement to the left side of his body after his freshman year of high school.
After making the switch, Knipe saw massive growth, which is when he says that he truly found his calling in the pole vault.
“From then on, I started to have a lot more improvement,” he said.
Knipe improved year after year, eventually jumping 16′ by his senior year, alongside winning multiple divisional championships and a state title.
After becoming one of the best jumpers in the state, Knipe wasn’t hard for Penn State to track down.
“It was easy, as you would expect. The coach at the time from Penn State had seen me jump a couple of times and would be at my meets occasionally,” he said. “A lot of my high school coaches had run at Penn State as well, so they knew everybody. It definitely became easy.”
After starting at Penn State, Knipe saw his freshman year impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and didn’t have a full year to get used to college. All the same, he maintains a positive attitude about it.
“In some ways, [the pandemic-affected season was] nice because it ended up giving us extra eligibility. I’m a junior at Penn State right now in the school, but I’m a sophomore for both indoor and outdoor track,” he said. “After this year, I’ll have two more [seasons].”
Even with two fewer complete seasons than he should have had thus far, Knipe says he’s happy with his progression at Penn State.
“I’ve definitely improved. I’ve just gotten stronger and faster and more confident with the vault,” he said. “I’m happy with how I’ve adjusted.”
The progression has paid off for Knipe over the last two indoor seasons, most notably starting with the 2021 Big Ten Indoor Championships.
The 2021 season marked Knipe’s first broken record at college when he won his first Big Ten medal, something he recalls eagerly. After jumping less than five meters before than meet, Knipe smashed his PR with a height of 5.30m.
The new best served as a form of validation for Knipe, who had been looking for more out of his performance leading up to the event.
“I had been kind of frustrated up until that point…It just felt like a relief and validated what I was doing in making sure I was doing the right things and sticking with pole vault,” he said.
2022’s records served the same purpose for Knipe, again feeling frustrations going into his historical jumps. Knipe set his first 2022 record at the Penn State “Tune Up” event, a small meet of mostly Penn State student-athletes. Following a week of strong practice, Knipe knew that something special was coming.
“I was a bit frustrated honestly earlier this year too,” he said. “I knew I was ready to jump a lot higher.”
Knipe’s success served as a confidence booster, and he knew bigger things were coming at the Big Ten meet in a week’s time. At the Big Ten Championships, Knipe didn’t struggle with setting his new record. He made each of his attempts on his first jump, helping him with overall placement in the competition.
Despite his strong performance, Knipe was still unable to come out on top for the day, losing the gold medal to Ohio State’s Luke Bendick. Sitting atop the leaderboard going into the final attempts at 5.45m, Knipe had a feeling that Bendick would make his attempt. Bendick succeeded, and despite what Knipe described as three strong attempts, he finished with a silver medal for the competition.
“I was obviously heartbroken,” he said.
All the same, Knipe keeps his head up. With the state of pole vault in the Big Ten, Knipe doesn’t find disappointment in being one of the best jumpers in a competitive conference.
Knipe’s excited for the outdoor track season, through which he’ll try to break more Penn State records. Next up is the 5.31m outdoor pole vault mark.
“I feel that’s a jump that’s more achievable for me now. I know that bar will come in time,” he said. “I’m just gonna focus on making technical tweaks and changes that I can now to really helped me out for the long game…I would definitely like to break the outdoor school record if I get the opportunity.”
With a few seasons behind him now, Knipe has his eyes set now on winning more medals, both at the Big Ten and NCAA levels. His ambitions have understandably grown after sustaining success at Penn State.
“I’d really like to make it there or make it to the national meet. It would be super exciting,” Knipe said. “That’s my big goal. I’m gonna do what I can to get some personal records, and I’d like to go for that gold this time.”
Now, Knipe’s taking things one day at a time as he aims to continue to etch himself into Penn State history.
“All I can focus on is just jumping higher, and hopefully, the medals will come with that.”
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