I recently talked with Pequot Lakes senior Tyler Tappe about earning a partial track and field scholarship to pole vault at the Big Ten Conference level for the University of Minnesota Gophers next season.
But as the interview progressed, the focus turned to the dedication between Tappe and his track coach, Dave Guenther, who has worked the past 30 years with Patriot vaulters.
Tappe talked about his appreciation for Guenther over the years. He said Guenther was often available to coach early morning hours or to resume a practice session after dinner. And a couple times Guenther drove Tappe to Walker-Hackensack-Akeley High School to practice vaulting when the track facility in Pequot Lakes was being remodeled.
“Dave has always been willing to help me,” said Tappe, who joined classmate Vanessa Lane this week in signing to compete at the Division I track and field level. “There would be times when he was the only one left practicing with the vaulters. It was hard work, but he made it fun.”
Guenther has been dedicated to all of his athletes and students, but he always noticed Tappe’s appreciation for assistance.
“He’s thankful for what you do,” Guenther said of Tappe. “I remember one time when Tyler and his cousin, Isaac Allen, came by my house to help me cut firewood. (Tyler) said he wanted to pay me back for coaching him.”
The other attribute Guenther likes about Tappe is his determination to learn more about vaulting.
“Tyler has a lot of ability, but what got me was he’s very coachable,” Guenther said. “Tyler is willing to listen. He also has the drive and ambition. He puts more into (vaulting) that most other athletes.
“I’ve had many vaulters who were coachable, but they wouldn’t take it any further. I could see Tyler wanted more, and he would attend (offseason) camps.”
A camp at Armstrong High School that Tappe attended the past three seasons featured U of M assistant track coach Steve White, who works with vaulters.
“It helped that I built a relationship with Coach White,” Tappe said. “He was helpful. I gained 14 inches on my vault every time I went to his camp.”
As a freshman, Tappe reached the 13-foot-2 mark and qualified for state in the vault. He improved to 14-4 as a sophomore but missed returning to state in the vault, although he did advance as a relay runner for the Patriots.
Last season, Tappe returned to state where he finished second to Blake School senior Grant Kreiger. Tappe and Kreiger did set a state meet record with a vault of 15-6 — although Kreiger set the record on his first attempt to clinch the title.
“Grant and Tyler were also friends,” Guenther said. “They helped each other. That’s the beauty of track and field. In vaulting, you’re always competing against height, not really against each other.”
Tappe will have big expectations with the Patriots’ track and field team this spring before he joins the Gophers next season.
“As a kid you dream about competing in Division I, but you don’t realize how hard it is to get there,” Tappe said. “I wanted to stay in the state (for college), and that’s why I narrowed it down to the U of M.”