Clayton Fritsch brings home gold for Team USA

SHSU AthleticsSam Houston State jumper Clayton Fritsch, center, poses on the medal stand after winning gold for Team USA at the U-23 NACAC championships in Querétaro, Mexico earlier this summer.

Sam Houston State pole vaulter Clayton Fritsch continues to rack up the medals — now, on the international stage.

Fritsch secured gold for Team USA on Sunday at the U-23 North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletics Association Championships Sunday in Querétaro, Mexico, setting a meet record with a mark of 18 feet and 4 ½ inches. Fellow Team USA member Zach Bradford took second, while Natan Rivera of El Salvador finished third.

The Bearkat standout qualified for the event — which featured athletes from 25 countries — earlier this year, when he placed third at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Austin.

“I’m super excited,” Fritsch said. “Anytime you get to put on that USA gear, it’s an amazing accomplishment in itself … to break a record in that uniform is absolutely insane. It gives you a great feeling of pride to do it for your country.”

The accomplishment didn’t come without adversity for Fritsch, who was competing abroad for the first time.

Cutter Bernhard, Fritsch’s jumps coach at Sam Houston State, was unable to make the trip. However, the pair were still able to communicate via text message with the help of one of Bernhard’s coaching colleagues.

“I wasn't able to make the trip, so I was at home getting updates from a coach I know from UC Davis,” Bernhard said. “We were going back-and-forth, and I was coaching as much as could through text message. ... It's something we've been working toward all year, and the ability to accomplish it and compete on the international level, then for him to be able to win an event and set a meet record, it was just pure excitement.”

“This competition definitely gave me a slight boost in confidence moving forward,” Fritsch added. “Being able to jump without my coach there, and just being there by myself, helped me prove to myself that I can do this no matter the adversity I face.”

For Bernhard, it’s been a pleasure to watch Fritsch blossom this season.

The Sealy native capped a prolific sophomore year with the Bearkats in May, when he became the first athlete in school history to medal at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. He was also tabbed as a first-team All-American by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

“It's come together far better than I would've imagined when the year started, but I'm extremely happy it has,” Bernhard said. “I knew he had all the talent and ability to do it, I just didn't think it was going to be quite this soon.”