Battling early spring Black Hills weather, notorious for rain, sleet, snow and ice--often in great quantities—is always a challenge for Lead-Deadwood High School outdoor sports activities.
In spite of the hindrance of iffy weather at a mile-high altitude, the Golddiggers have an attitude to match, with an amazing feat in track and field, 10 state A pole vault titles in 21 years.
Mike Brick began the winning trend, capturing the state boys title in 1998. Lead-Deadwood vaulters won five consecutive titles with Mike Wagner (2002), Jarred Burelson (2003), Nate McGruder (2004) and Daniel Brick (2005—2006).
After a hiatus of four years, Nate Hayward put the Golldiggers back atop the podium with back to-back titles in 2010 and 2011.
The latest success story is Carolyn Groeger, who has also won consecutive titles in 2016 and 2017 as the first Lady Golddigger to bring home a state pole vault title.
Groeger began competing at the high school level as an 8th grader. Pole vault coach Travis Rogers asked her to give the event a try.
“I gave it a shot and found out I was pretty good at it,” said Groeger.
Groeger tied teammate Jade Derby for second place, with a 9-feet, 6-inch vault at the state meet in 2015.
She won the event with an effort of 10-feet, 3 inches in 2016 and repeated as state champion with a school record of 11 feet in 2017.
"The pole vault is very complex," said Groeger. "To be a pole vaulter, you have to be athletic. It takes a lot of core strength in the upper body and strength to be quick in your approach.
"It takes a lot of practice to get the various components together to get a successful vault," s
"The pole vault depends on speed, strength and excellent form," said Lead-Deadwood coach Will Malde. "Carolyn has incredible form. She's a very good sprinter and has been great helping the younger vaulters.
"When you ask a student to run a speed down the runway and then invert their body, you have to be mentally tough.
"Carolyn takes great care of her her body -- what food she eats and what she drinks."
Other factors play a key part in the pole vault. "The pole depends on the vaulter's weight. In warm weather and with a head wind, you use a heavier pole. In cold weather and tail wind, a lighter pole is used.
"I was a high jumper from my freshman to junior years," said Groeger "I ran the 400 and 800-meter relays which both qualified for State. I am currently running the 100 and 200-meters."
Groeger was a member of the varsity volleyball team at LDHS, lettered for four years and claimed all-Black Hills Conference honors her junior and senior years. She had 780 attack kills during her career.
The LDHS senior will attend University of Sioux Falls, an NCAA Division II school in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. She will compete in track and field for the Cougars and major in nursing.
"I attended a camp at Sioux Falls," said Groeger. The coach told me I had the potential to be one of the best pole vaulters in the state. USF showed a lot of interest in me. They were really welcoming. I felt it would be a great place to continue my pole vaulting career."
All in spite of mile-high Lead-Deadwood, which seems to draw more than its share of inclement weather. The Golddigger pole vaulters have prevailed, just like participants in another spring sport, the Lead-Deadwood girls golfers who won five state Class A state titles, with four individual champions, from 2004-2008.
"The weather has been brutal," said Malde, of one of an early-season obstacle the Golddiggers have overcome.
"We have an indoor area set up in the gym for the pole vault," said Groeger.
Groeger got the season off to an impressive start, winning the pole vault competition at the Rapid City Developmental meet last Friday. Her height of 10 feet was one foot higher than last year at the same meet.
"My biggest goal is to win the state title and win the gold medal (best height of Class AA, A and B vaulters) and set a state record,” she said. “I would like to qualify for the national meet. In order to do that, I have to reach 11-9."
Groeger just missed at the state record of 11-4 last year.
Lyle Hare Stadium in Spearfish hosts the first day of the State A track and field meet on May 25. That’s close to home territory for Groeger and the Golddiggers.
"It will be great to have the first day in Spearfish." said Malde.