A Different Lift: Lebanon High’s Cyphers Tries Now Coaching Pole Vaulters

  • The Wake Forest Demon Deacons men's and women's track and field teams played host at the Wake Forest Invitational held at the JDL Fast Track on January 16, 2016 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (Brian Westerholt/Sports On Film)

  • The Wake Forest Demon Deacons track & field team played host for the Wake Forest Open on March 20-21, 2015 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (Brian Westerholt/Sports On Film)

  • Grantham’s Mike Cyphers competes at the 2016 Wake Forest Open track and feel meet in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, November 30, 2017

Mike Cyphers keeps finding new ways to advance in pole vaulting.

After excelling as a walk-on during his freshman year at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the former Lebanon High standout received a full athletic scholarship to Wake Forest University and went on to set both indoor and outdoor program records with the Demon Deacons.

Now the Grantham native is in his first full season training with an elite group of pole vaulters at Vault House, a nonprofit training and equipment facility in High Point, N.C., about a half-hour’s drive from Wake Forest’s Winston-Salem campus.

Cyphers, 23, trains with former High Point University athletes Scott Houston, Austin Miller and Jill Marios, the latter of whom he is also dating. The partnership allows Cyphers access to Vault House’s considerable amenities as he pursues qualification in February’s USATF Indoor Championship meet in Albuquerque, N.M.

It also allows Cyphers to stay involved with and give back to the pole vaulting community at large. Three times per week, he coaches vaulters of all ages at the gym, many of them high schoolers. Cyphers considers helping to advance the sport part and parcel after he benefited so much from pole vaulting coaches such as Dan Mead with the Raiders.

Mead helped Cyphers win back-to-back NHIAA Division II titles in 2011-12, setting him up to excel at the Division I college level.

“It’s mostly high school kids who come from all over North Carolina to train here in four-hour sessions,” said Cyphers. “We have three runways and something like 600 poles, which we can rent out to them for a low price. I know how important that is because my brother (Josh, who competed at Lebanon High and Dartmouth College) and I got through high school using four or five poles, and that’s not easy.

“We did it basically thanks to Dan Mead, who put so much time into helping us. I’m essentially following his lead in wanting to give back.”

Cyphers’ vault of 15 feet, 9 inches at UMass tied for first at the Atlantic 10 Conference meet, helping to get him recruited by Wake Forest, among other larger programs. He was motivated to migrate to Winston-Salem, N.C., as much by financial considerations as athletic.

“To be honest, I was pretty happy at UMass, but I was finding it was getting to be too expensive,” Cyphers said. “Like most colleges, (UMass) puts all their money into football, baseball and basketball and couldn’t to offer me a scholarship. When Wake Forest offered a full ride plus books, I knew it was an opportunity not only for that but also to compete in a Power 5 conference, the (Atlantic Coast Conference).”

It didn’t take long for Cyphers to make an impression at Wake, setting an indoor school mark with a jump of 16-7 at the ACC Indoor Championships during his first season with the Deacons. He recorded the same height during the following outdoor season, another school mark, and went on to exceed his indoor record twice, culminating with a 16-9 vault at the 2015 ACC indoor meet that helped him earn second-team all-conference honors.

Cyphers matched his outdoor program record several times between his sophomore and senior seasons. He won the Wake Forest Invitational during the indoor season as a senior and the North Carolina A&T Aggie Invitational during his final collegiate spring.

Mead, for one, isn’t surprised at the success Cyphers went on to achieve after Lebanon.

“He’s always had all the attributes of a really good vaulter,” said Mead, who traveled to the Tar Heel State several times with his wife, Janet, to watch his former protege compete. “For him, it’s about more than the sport but the whole culture that comes along with it. I always knew he’d be taking his skills to the next level.”

Because he forfeited some of his freshman-year credits when he transferred from UMass, Cyphers graduated last spring, a year after his NCAA eligibility expired. He continued to train unaffiliated with the Deacons before catching on with Vault House, about 30 miles southwest of Winston-Salem in High Point, where he now resides.

“Now I pretty much just go back to campus to get my haircut,” Cyphers said with a laugh. “There’s someone there who does it for free.”

Those types of expenses are significant for Cyphers, who works only part-time in order to remain sufficiently committed to pole vaulting. He’ll need to reach 17-8 at a sanctioned meet in order to qualify for February’s National Indoor meet, with the top three from there qualifying for the World Championships later next year.

“Unless you’re in the top three, you really can’t make any money off of pole vaulting, so it’s a passion where you kind of put the rest of your life on hold,” said Cyphers, a communications major and film minor at Wake Forest. “Jill is in the top 15 in the country and still doesn’t make any money from it. Can you imagine if she was a top 15 football player?

“There is some hardship involved with pursuing my dream of being a world-class pole vaulter. It definitely takes some perseverance, but the way I was brought up is that sometimes you have to go against the grain to make the wood smooth.”

Perhaps the most rewarding part of Cyphers’ path is his coaching duties at Vault House, where he’s one of the facility’s most popular mentors. Marois, who’s known Cyphers since they were both undergraduates, says he’s easy to like.

“He’s a lot more fun than a lot of the other coaches I’ve come across in track,” said Marois, a Boylston, Mass., native who prepped at Worcester Academy prior to competing at High Point. “His practices are very structured, but he keeps it light and fun.”

Cyphers, who is in the best physical shape of his life at a lean 170 pounds, has also lately been pursuing one-handed pole vaulting. He’s got his sights set on eclipsing the niche discipline’s unofficial world record of 10-foot-2.

“I learned recently that I’m not too bad swinging upside down on a pole with one hand, so why not have fun with it?” Cyphers said.

“I think I can break the record at my next practice.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.