LINCOLN — Christian Sanderfer’s Halloween trick turned out to be some unexpected treat for the Nebraska track and field team.
Sanderfer is a sophomore pole vaulter by trade, and a pretty good one — he finished eighth at the Big Ten indoor championships last year. But it was his side project — and how coaches discovered it — that’s become lore.
The Lincoln Southwest graduate pulls double duty on Nebraska’s record-setting 1,600-meter relay team, an unusual juggling act considering the events don’t share much of the same skill set.
“You’ll see a lot of pole vault guys that might be good long jumpers or can run a 60 or 100 or run on your 4x100, but the 400 and pole vault is certainly an odd combination,” said T.J. Pierce, who coaches the Husker vaulters.
Sanderfer’s double life on the track began around Halloween in 2013 when the team held an informal intrasquad meet to promote team bonding. One event featured a 1,600-relay team where runners in banana suits do the first three legs, chased by a gorilla running anchor.
Sanderfer took one for the team and went in search of the monkey suit. With the help of his dad, he found a rubber mask and set of gloves, which he touched off with a black shirt and tights. When he took the baton for his leg, he could barely see and hardly breathe through the mask — yet coaches clocked him at a 49-second split.
“I was ecstatic after running that because I’d honestly run two 400s in my life and some multi events in high school, and I ran like high 50 or 51 (seconds),” Sanderfer said. “Hearing a two-second (personal record), I was pretty excited.”
If he could run that quickly in costume, NU’s coaches wondered, what could Sanderfer do in an official race? He earned his way on to the 1,600-relay team that won the Big Ten indoor title and set a school record of 3:07.63 when it finished seventh at the NCAA indoor meet last year.
Sanderfer’s foray into middle distance sprints is even more impressive considering it may be the deepest squad on the men’s team, NU coach Gary Pepin said. Ricco Hall, Levi Gipson, Cody Rush, Jodi-Rae Blackwood, Jake Bender and Dexter McKenzie all have run on the relay, meaning Sanderfer isn’t guaranteed a spot to defend NU’s Big Ten title.
The Huskers may switch up the relay lineups when they compete Friday at the Nebraska Wesleyan Invitational and Saturday at the Mark Colligan Memorial. Both meets will be held at the Devaney Center’s indoor track.
But for now, Sanderfer will continue to try to make strides in both. After failing to qualify for the NCAA meet in the pole vault last season, he set a personal best by vaulting 17-feet, ĺ inches to win the title last weekend at the Holiday Inn Invitational.
“I was ecstatic to just break that barrier and get it out of my head,” Sanderfer said of hitting 17 feet.
Sanderfer and Pierce said the next goal is to qualify for the NCAA indoor championships, which would likely require a vault of at least 17-8. Sanderfer also wouldn’t mind teaming up to make another run at the school record in the 1,600 relay.
“Any way I can help the team score points to win a conference championship,” Sanderfer said, “I will do my part.”