Friday Night Sports Hero: Megan Burkholder and Connor Floyd

NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (KNOP) - Two of the top pole vaulters in the state of Nebraska are Cozad's Megan Burkholder, and Sutherland's Connor Floyd.

(L) Megan Burkholder and (R) Connor Floyd are both multiple State medal winners. Burkholder has two gold medals, while Floyd has a gold and silver medal. (Credit: Patrick Johnstone/KNOP-TV)

Megan Burkholder started pole vaulting competitively in the seventh grade, but started with the dream of pole vaulting younger than that.

"My dad was a pole vaulter and he broke a pole in high school, and actually still had it. So, I used to go and play in the yard and play pole vault, so it was just something that I always kind of thought I was going to be good at," Burkholder said.

In high school, Burkholder quickly showed she was a talented pole vaulter, and had a lot of potential.

"I think her freshman year when she came in she was competitive right away, winning quite a few meets, and I said, 'you know, we might have somebody here that's going to do something special,'" said Cozad track coach Trey Botts. "She's always been a strong kid and I just thought s she kind of figures out the technique of this, it's going to go her way."

As a freshman, Burkholder qualified for the State championship meet, and finished in 12th place. Burkholder returned to Omaha as a sophomore, and finished with the gold medal, vaulting 11' 2". Burkholder once again qualified as a junior, with a chance to repeat as a gold medalist.

"Junior year, it was all about, 'okay, you are the top dog, can you maintain that?' and there's an awful lot of good girls pole vaulters in our conference and out west especially," Botts said. "It's different being the hunter, it's a different experience when you're the hunted, and they all wanted what she had."

Burkholder defended her title, again winning gold, with a vault of 11' 3". She was happy to have won gold, but her goal at State was to enjoy her time competing more, because she didn't allow herself to enjoy it as a sophomore.

"Actually, my goal was to be more social. When I was a sophomore, I spent the entire time lock-jawed and pacing, and it wasn't nearly as much fun. So, my goal as a junior was to go in and to enjoy the experience, to get to know some of the other vaulters, and so I did that, and I think that it really helped me to be more calm during competition," Burkholder said. "There was a little bit of pressure to repeat, but since that wasn't my goal, it was somebody else's pressure instead of my own, it wasn't as big of a deal."

Burkholder's goal for senior year was to vault over 13 feet, and have a chance to win the All-Class medal.

"It's kind of weird the way things have ended. There are all these things that you imagine yourself doing as a senior in high school, and people build that up, and it's just kind of been stolen I guess," Burkholder said. "I kept thinking about the way that last year would have been different if I'd known that it would have been the last time that I was wearing the Cozad uniform and pole vaulting for my high school."

Burkholder will continue pole vaulting in college. She will head to Davidson College in North Carolina next season.

Connor Floyd started pole vaulting in the sixth grade, and quickly developed a passion for the event.

"Right off the bat, I knew that I loved it, and I just I had a gut feeling that I knew I'd be good at it, so I just kept working towards it," Floyd said.

Floyd's brother Bennett is a year older than him, and also pole vaulted for Sutherland. The brothers always competed with one another, and pushed each other to improve.

"He did work a lot with Bennett, and they pushed each other pretty hard," said Sutherland track coach Jessica Saner. "You know, that brotherly competition, neither one of them wanted to get beat, and that probably goes to every aspect with those two, they're very competitive. They spent a lot of time together at the track working."

"He's been a part of it ever since I started pole vaulting," Floyd said of his brother, "We were always out there together late at practices. He took a year off junior year to golf, but he went back to track senior year. He's always been there, and he's always wanted to push me and always tells me to do my best."

As a freshman in high school, Floyd vaulted over 13 and a half feet, and knew he had a chance to be a good pole vaulter.

As a sophomore, Floyd qualified for the State meet, and finished tied for second with a vault of 14' 4", losing to only senior teammate, Garrett Elfeldt. As a junior, Floyd returned to State, and won gold, vaulting 14' 2". Winning gold did not come as a surprise to Saner, because of how much work he puts in.

"Those pole vaulters are a different breed. They spent a lot of time practicing after everyone else went home, a lot of times until dark. He's always put in a lot of time, and has a lot of dedication to every athletic sport that he's in," Saner said

Floyd's senior football season was cut short due to a knee injury, but he spent time rehabbing, and going to physical therapy, and was cleared to resume track activities Mar. 13, and was hoping to be back fully competing by the end of the season. Unfortunately, the NSAA cancelled the spring season on Apr. 2.

"Once everything got canceled, it was kind of heartbreaking, because I was working so hard in physical therapy to get back to where I was, it was tough, and just to have it taken away, it was kind of heartbreaking," Floyd said.

When his senior track season was taken from him, after his senior football season was cut short due to an injury, Floyd made the decision that he wanted to continue his athletic career in college.

"The mindset that I had was I still had track, and I would get to do that before everything's over, but after that got taken away just out of nowhere. It was kind of like, I don't think I'm ready to let sports go yet, and I just made this decision that I wanted to continue my sports career at the collegiate level," Floyd said.

Floyd committed to run track and play football at Doane University next season.