A Jump to Remember: Millikin’s Kyle Hensley Becomes NCAA DIII Pole Vault National Champion

The first-year Big Blue student-athlete had a personal best jump of 17-0 to win the title.

Kyle Hensley

DECATUR, Ill. – When Millikin University pole vaulter Kyle Hensley prepares to clear a new height at a track meet, he wants his mind clear, and the actual jump is done in a flash. 

“Most of the jump is a blur. I can't really remember it after I get off the ground, “ Hensley said. "As I run down, I count in my head, ‘7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, jump.’ After I jump, I usually don't remember anything until I land.”

But one recent jump will stay with Hensley forever. 

Kyle Hensley
Photo courtesy of d3photography.com.

At the 2024 NCAA Division III Indoor Track and Field Championships held March 8 in Virginia Beach, Va., Hensley cleared a jump of 17-0 feet. It was a personal best jump by 11 inches, but more importantly, it was the top job in the competition, making the first-year Big Blue student-athlete national champion. 

“I really don't know how I did it. I think it's been brewing at practice. It just hadn't been able to click at a meet for me yet. With the adrenaline and all that going on, I think it all helped me,” Hensley said. “Most of the time at that level, a one- or two-inch PR would be pretty big, so an 11-inch PR is amazing. ”

Hensley’s championship was record-setting as the top pole vault jump by a first-year athlete ever at an NCAA DIII Championship. He became just the second Millikin track athlete to win a national championship, joining Carl Alexander, who won the 100 Meters in 1997-98. Hensley is the fifth individual Big Blue athlete national champion.

“Kyle did some pretty impressive stuff and rode an amazing wave of emotion that day. During the process we've been working through at practice, I could see that he could be a 17-foot jump guy,” Millikin Assistant Track Coach Carrol Whitehouse said. “We’d seen it this season, we'd seen it in pieces, and he put it all together. The gears meshed, and he was rocking.”

Kyle Hensley
Millikin's Kyle Hensley (left) and Assistant Coach Carrol Whitehouse celebrate Kyle's championship. Photo courtesy of d3photography.com.

Hensley had some support from his Big Blue track teammates, who made the trip to Virginia and competed with teammate Jake Shumaker, who ran in the 800 meters and finished ninth overall to receive All-America Second Team honors

Hensley is originally from Mount Zion, Ill., and earned three individual medals at the Illinois State High School Track Meet, finishing fifth, third, and second in his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons, respectively.

He picked up pole vaulting in middle school after seeing some teammates practicing. 

Kyle Hensley
Photo courtesy of d3photography.com.

“It was back in seventh grade, and when we were doing some warmups, I saw two high school girls pole vaulting. I looked over, and I think I made a joke with one of my friends, saying that would be me one day,” Hensley said. The first time I went for it, I just grabbed a pole and went for it. I didn't go very high and just went over. It was awful that first time, but then it just went from there.”

Hensley enjoyed the camaraderie with his fellow vaulters in the final rounds of the championship, and he looks to continue his momentum in the Big Blue’s outdoor track season this spring and potentially a trip to the NCAA DIII Outdoor Championships in Myrtle Beach, SC in May. 

“I really enjoy talking to all the other competitors,” he said. “We're all there just to compete for ourselves, and a lot of it is joking around with each other. We're all just trying to jump as well as we can.”