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Prep track and field: Northwestern’s Benesch is ‘like a cat in the air’

The Tigers senior has already topped 14 feet on the pole vault this season and hopes to bring a state championship back to Maple as well as break the 40-year-old school record set by his coach, Bruce Nelson.

Northwestern’s Cam Benesch is hoping to make into the top spot of the Tiger pole vaulting records
Northwestern’s Cam Benesch is hoping to make into the top spot of the Tiger pole vaulting records before the season is done as he poses in the gymnasium at Northwestern High School in Maple on Wednesday afternoon, May 11, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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MAPLE — It started with a boy doing something his parents probably wouldn’t like.

Northwestern’s Camren Benesch said he was about 10 years old when he started taking some serious risks on his family’s trampoline.

“I would drag my trampoline over in the yard and I’d jump off of the roof of my house onto it and then I’d do a flip once I hit it,” Benesch said. “I’m not too shy about being in the air. I’ll jump off anything — rope swings, everything.”

Benesch’s parents, April and Chad Benesch, knew their son wasn’t afraid of much, to the point that Chad cut limbs off trees near the house so he couldn’t get on the roof and more. Even that didn’t stop him and he found other ways to scratch his itch to be in the air.

“We used to have a rope swing tied up in a really tall branch and he would drag the trampoline under that,” April said. “That was probably a good 20-foot drop that he would let himself go from. He’s always been fearless.”

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That fearless nature is coming in handy for Benesch as a pole vaulter for the Tigers. The senior already has a vault of 14 feet and he’s closing in on Bruce Nelson’s school record of 14 feet, 9 ¾ inches that has stood since 1982.

Northwestern’s Cam Benesch clears the bar
Northwestern’s Cam Benesch clears the bar as he wins the boys pole vault during the Packy Paquette Invite at UW-Superior on Friday, April 8, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Benesch said Nelson had to push him a little to try the event, but once he did it he knew he had found the sport for him.

“I did really enjoy it and that’s why I really pursued it,” Benesch said. “I like all aspects of it. It’s really dangerous, it’s fun when you start doing good at it. It’s really something that I just found interesting.”

Nelson, a state champion in 1982, was a four-time All-American vaulting for Wisconsin-La Crosse and is now the Northwestern pole vault coach. Nelson said Benesch is a “once-in-a-generation pole vaulter” and captivated the crowd when he hit 14 feet in Rice Lake.

Northwestern’s Cam Benesch sits in the gymnasium at Northwestern High School
Northwestern’s Cam Benesch sits in the gymnasium at Northwestern High School in Maple on Wednesday afternoon, May 11, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“You just don’t get kids like that every year,” Nelson said. “And gosh, is he a bundle of energy. He is so much fun to be around and the crowd loves him. We were at the Rice Lake meet, when he went to 13’9, the meet basically stopped to watch him.”

The Rice Lake meet was when Benesch topped 14 feet and Nelson thinks he can hit 15 feet before the end of the season, which would make him one of the top vaulters in Wisconsin.

Normally, a 14-foot vault would be competitive at the state level, but this year, there are two pole vaulters in Wisconsin that have already gone over 15 feet this season, so Benesch does have a little work to do.

Nelson thinks Benesch’s time as a football player and wrestler at Northwestern have helped him develop the strength to be an outstanding pole vaulter, but it may be those trampoline stunts that set him apart.

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Northwestern’s Cam Benesch flashes a big smile
Northwestern’s Cam Benesch flashes a big smile as he stands with his pole vaulting pole at Northwestern High School in Maple on Wednesday afternoon, May 11, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“Cam grew up on a trampoline, so he’s like a cat in the air,” Nelson said. “He has incredible kinesthetic awareness in the air … He knows where he’s at in the air and he knows how to get his hips back.” Nelson said Benesch is also extremely coachable and he instinctively understands what Nelson is trying to get him to do in the air.

April said she still gets “nervous” watching Benesch vault, but she and her husband have tried to help their son fall without hurting himself, something that’s been successful. Benesch has never broken a bone and despite a few “bumps,” according to April, it’s never caused a trip to the emergency room.

Northwestern’s Cam Benesch watches the bar stay put while he falls to the mat
Northwestern’s Cam Benesch watches the bar stay put while he falls to the mat as during his win in the boys pole vault at the Packy Paquette Invite at UW-Superior on Friday, April 8, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“We’ve always had the philosophy with Camren that we taught him how to fall appropriately, because there was no way that we were always going to be watching,” April said. “The saying we’ve always had around here is ‘You’ve got to learn how to fall,’ because it’s important.”

Benesch’s goal this season is to make it to the state meet after bowing out in the sectionals in 2021 and, maybe just as importantly, he wants that school record. Even if he doesn’t get it though, he’s going to have fun going for it.

“I want to dig out the school record and I want to be the best pole vaulter to ever come out of Northwestern,” he said. “That’s what I would like to do. If it doesn’t I’m happy, but I’m really working hard for that and I’m going to do everything in my power to make that happen.”

Jamey Malcomb has been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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