State champ Keifer continues Otsego’s vaulting tradition


COLUMBUS — There is a lot of pedigree in Otsego pole vaulting, and it seems to continue year after year.

Otsego senior Dakota Keifer kept the tradition alive, clearing 16 feet to win the Division II state championship Saturday at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium on the campus of Ohio State University.

Keifer was four inches better than second place New Richmond sophomore Grant Harrison, who cleared 15 feet, eight inches.

It was Otsego’s fifth state pole vault championship and Keifer’s third time placing at state in three years. He had no season his freshman year because of Covid, placed seventh as a sophomore and fourth as a junior.

Keifer had to overcome 90-degree temperatures, some pain, and the most important factor of all, vaulting against the state’s best.

“In my warmups, everything wasn’t clicking,” Keifer said. “My run was a little off, my shins were hurting a little bit. My warmups were terrible, and I started getting nervous then.

“I was like, ‘This is not going to be the day I hoped it was going to be.’ Then when I was getting warmed up to start jumping for the competition, everything started feeling a lot better,” Keifer continued.

“From there, I reached my jumps fairly well from there on out. I stayed clean until 15-8, that was my first miss in the competition, and at 16 feet I made it on my second jump.

“Staying clean throughout the whole competition helped a lot, too. Obviously, keeping a lot of stress off my legs, that helps for that.”

Keifer’s pole vault lineage dates to his father, Richie Keifer. At one point during Dakota’s high school career, he was just hoping to match his dad’s once record-setting vault of 14-4. Dakota has gone far beyond that.

Dakota’s pole vault coach also has lineage. Shaun Downey is a 1989 Otsego graduate who won two pole vault state championships and continued his success at Purdue University.

Shaun is the son of the late Timothy Downey, who now has an annual Otsego track invitational named for him.

Shaun’s brother Travis is in the Bowling Green State University Athletic Hall of Fame for his vaulting prowess. Travis was the Mid-American Conference champion in the pole vault at all four league outdoor meets in which he competed (1994-95-96-98).

Travis set school records during his final season in both the indoor (17-4½) and outdoor (17-5½) pole vault. At the time, Travis was only the seventh athlete in MAC history to win the same event four times.

Bringing the Keifer family in line with the Downey family, which operates an indoor vaulting facility for offseason training and instruction, is like bringing together decades of experience in the sport.

This yeayr, however, when Dakota’s journey to his state championship run started six months ago, there were plenty of obstacles to overcome.

“A lot of hard work on Dakota’s part to get down there and to perform at the moment, it is not easy to do,” Downey said.

“Considering we started his indoor year in November and then moving into a little bit of a challenging outdoor season with the weather and stuff, everything came together at the right moment,” Shaun Downey continued.

“It’s one of those things you don’t always know what you are going to get, especially with a short outdoor season, when you look at weather conditions and facility conditions, you really only have a couple weeks sometimes to get things put together.”

Keifer will continue his vaulting career at the next level, heading to Youngstown State.

“Obviously, I can’t say enough as a coach when I get my athletes to go on and compete later on,” Downey said. “That’s really what it is all about in my opinion.”

Downey says Keifer’s work ethic is what got him to where he is at.

“I’ve been working with him since junior high, and I kind of joked that there was a time when I actually could outrun him a little bit in the hallway and now, he’s looking at me in the rearview mirror. He’s come a long way,” Downey said.

“We typically start in November out there at our indoor facility and that is where a lot of our work is done, technically speaking, plus the conditioning part in the weight room at the high school and stuff like that.

“It kicks off in November, indoor season kicks off in January and then outdoor usually starts at the end of February. It’s usually a bit of a lengthy process, but with work ethic, it works for just about anybody, and that is what it takes in this sport.

“You can watch film all day long, you can read about it, but at the end of the day you have to put the time in,” Downey added.

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