Olivia Gruver Goes ‘Back To The Lab,’ Rewrites Record Book

Toby Stevenson saw it coming from a mile down the runway.

The 2004 Olympic silver medalist knew Olivia Gruver could eventually become one of the best vaulters in NCAA history, a distinction she certainly holds now that she broke the collegiate outdoor record a few months ago. He saw her raw talent at Franklin High School, where she had a PR of 4.06m (13-4) and won back-to-back state titles, but it was just a matter of unlocking her true potential.

From The USTFCCCA InfoZone: Records & Lists

“She came in super hungry,” said Stevenson, who recruited Gruver to Kentucky and coached her for three years there before the duo transitioned to Washington this offseason. “She was willing to trust me on this crazy journey and go through the rigmarole of experimentation and the daily grind. Once I saw all of that, I knew we were in a great spot.”

It didn’t take long for Gruver to reach new heights, both literally and figuratively.

Finding Her Gruve(r)

Here are the best marks Olivia Gruver has turned in each season of her collegiate career to date
Year Classification Indoor Outdoor
2015-16 Freshman 4.17m (13-8¼) 4.30m (14-1¼)
2016-17 Sophomore 4.49m (14-8¾) 4.50m (14-9)
2017-18 Junior

4.67m (15-3¾)

4.55m (14-11)
2018-19 Senior Redshirt 4.73m (15-6¼)

By the end of her sophomore year with the Wildcats, Gruver pushed her PR to 4.50m (14-9) and won her first NCAA title in the process. It was at the 2017 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon, where Gruver unseated then-SEC rival Lexi Jacobus (née Weeks) of Arkansas, who swept the NCAA slate clean the previous year.

Gruver carried that momentum into her junior year as she became just the sixth woman in collegiate history to clear 15 feet indoors, a feat she’d accomplish three times before the end of the season. Her best bar of 4.67m (15-3¾) made her the second best performer in collegiate history behind record holder Demi Payne of Stephen F. Austin.

Injuries grounded Gruver for most of the 2018 outdoor season, but they didn’t stop her from successfully defending her NCAA championship. The Reisterstown, Maryland, native outlasted a talented field and was just the second woman in NCAA history to go back to back outdoors (Indiana State’s Kylie Hutson did so in 2009 and 2010).

Gruver then transferred from Kentucky to Washington this past September, a move that wasn’t considered a surprise since Stevenson took a job with the Huskies just a few months earlier. The duo saw that as a perfect chance to use a redshirt.

“We both kind of looked at it and said, ‘Let’s go back to the lab,’” Stevenson said. “We had to strengthen some of her weaknesses: getting her faster, building her strength, working on her take-off a little bit. And there wasn’t a pressure to get ready for the indoor season, which really allowed us to iron those things out.”

It must have felt like just another day at practice for Gruver at the Stanford Invitational in late March (Her first bar gave her the event title after the 10 other women entered bowed out at previous bars), but it was far from just another day for those who keep an eye on the collegiate record book.

Gruver cleared 4.23m (13-10½), 4.38m (14-4½), 4.45m (14-7¼) and 4.61m (15-1½), then asked officials to set the standard at 4.73m (15-6¼). If you’re curious about the significance of that height, the former collegiate record set by Arkansas’ Sandi Morris four years ago was 4.72m (15-5¾).

The rest, as they say, is history.