January 12, 1999
by Ben Murphy
Before his senior year in high school, senior pole vaulter Michael Brown had not heard much about Notre Dame. But when he stepped on campus during his visit, he knew that this was the place for him. “The people at Notre Dame just went out of their way for me,” says Brown. “I felt very comfortable here. The people I met during my trip really attracted me to Notre Dame.”
Brown’s decision to come to Notre Dame certainly has been a blessing for the Irish track and field team as he has been nothing short of spectacular during his collegiate career. During his freshman year, Brown, who was the California state champion in the pole vault his senior year, earned all-BIG EAST honors on the basis of his third-place finishes in both the BIG EAST indoor and outdoor championships.
There was no sophomore jinx for Brown the next season as he won the 1997 BIG EAST indoor and outdoor pole vault titles with vaults of 16-2 3/4 indoors and 16-4 3/4 outdoors. Both of these performances earned Brown all-BIG EAST honors for the second consecutive year. Brown also won indoor meets at the Central Collegiate Championships and against Indiana and finished first outdoors at the Mt. SAC relays. Also during his sophomore year, Brown became the first Irish vaulter to pass the 17-foot barrier when he cleared 17-1/4 to take second at the IC4A-EACAC outdoor championships. Brown’s junior season was no different from his first two years as he continued to improve.
He set school records for both indoor (17-5 3/4) and outdoor competition (17-3), repeated as BIG EAST indoor pole vault champion with a vault of 16-6 and finished second at the 1998 BIG EAST outdoor championships with a vault of 16-4 3/4. During the indoor season, Brown provisionally qualified for the NCAA championships, but unfortunately was not selected to compete. Brown finished off his junior season with a win at the IC4A outdoor track and field championships with a vault of 16-8 3/4.
Going into his senior year, Brown has 10 of the top 20 vaults in Irish history. Brown’s success though comes as no surprise to Notre Dame’s head track and field coach Joe Piane.
“We expected him to be an NCAA qualifier,” says Piane. Because he was the California state champion, it was only logical to think that by the time he was a junior that he’d be able to go 17-6. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to be good. He’s reached our expectations, but we think that we can be even better. He could vault 18 feet, which would be tremendous.”
Brown himself also believes that he can improve on his already lengthy list of accomplishments. He looks at the NCAA championships and the 18-foot barrier as two goals which he would like to accomplish this year.
“I’d really like to make it into the NCAA’s,” says Brown. I’ve got two more chances and that’s it. Realistically, I think that I have a good chance of making both the indoor and outdoor championships, and hopefully I’ll walk away with All-American honors. Vaulting 18 feet is obviously another goal. If you do that, you can put yourself in the top percentage of jumpers in the nation. I’d really like to be a part of that, and I think I can do it.”
When competing, Brown feeds off the emotion of the crowd, which explains why he has jumped so well in big meets such as the BIG EAST championships.
“I’m more of an emotional jumper than a technique jumper,” says Brown. “I don’t know that I could go out there on any given day and have no crowd and nothing to get me going and vault. I feed off the adrenaline and the emotions of the crowd whenever I’m jumping.” Brown foresees another good year for Notre Dame’s track and field team of which he is the captain.
“I think the team is going to do well,” says Brown. “Whether or not we win the BIG EAST, there’s going to be a lot of great individual performances. It’s really going to be exciting.” After graduating from Notre Dame, Brown will attend the University of Pacific for dental school. He also admits that his senior season will most likely be the last time that he will vault competitively.
“I won’t have the time, the facilities, or the coaches,” says Brown. “I’ll also be concentrating a lot on school, so vaulting will be over after this. I’ll miss it a lot, especially the people on the track and field team. They’ve helped to make my time here memorable.”