Bane and Klein turn high school rivalry into collegiate success

It’s the first day of the Big Ten Indoor Championships at the Armory. Freshman Cody Klein cheers with his teammates as they intently watch the final jumps of the pole vault competition. Klein would go on to secure a sixth-place finish, but at this point the field is down to just three: Minnesota’s Ben Peterson, Indiana’s Stefanos Koufidis and Klein’s fellow freshman teammate Matt Bane.

As all three fail to clear the height of 5.38 meters, Bane, who was the only one who cleared 5.28 on his first try, becomes the “Big Ten champion”: Klein and the rest of the Illinois pole vaulters run over to celebrate with Bane.

It wasn’t always like this.

Bane and Klein have a history that dates back to high school. Jump back a year and one will find a heated rivalry between the two.

Both Klein, who attended Sparta High School in southern Illinois, and Bane, a Rochester, Ill., native, anticipated competing against each other in high school.

“I would always look forward to vaulting with him,” Bane said. “It may be bad to say but he was the only competition there was.”

The two would usually see each other three times a year. They both embraced the challenge and their final battle came at the IHSAA track and field state championships. Bane and Klein cleared the same height, but Bane was crowned champion due to fewer misses.

“I feel like I kind of choked at state,” Klein said. “If I would’ve went at my PR I would’ve been very, very satisfied.”

Although Bane took the win, he felt he underperformed as well.

“I’m sure we both wanted to do way, way better,” Bane said.

Illinois interim head coach Mike Turk had interest in the two vaulters far before that state championship.

Although Klein knew early on he was coming to Illinois, signing around January or February, Bane wasn’t sure.

“I was torn between a few, and money was an issue,” Bane said. “I had seen he came here and I wasn’t sure I wasn’t going to get anything here.”

Klein was on Turk’s radar largely due to Andrew Zollner — Illinois’ three-time national qualifier in the pole vault was from Klein’s hometown.

“There was a closeness between Andrew and Cody,” Turk said. “They knew each other real well, so I’ve had reports on Cody quite a bit from the time he was a freshman.”

Turk and pole vault coach Bryan Carrel made a push to try and rebuild Illinois’ tradition in the event.

“I was recruiting a pool of vaulters … and really these are kind of the two guys that really stuck out to me,” Turk said.

Since arriving on campus, that high school rivalry has turned into a college friendship.

“We pretty much hang out every day, either at class, practice or something,” Klein said. “Yeah, he’s a good friend of mine.”

Although they get along pretty well, their personalities are quite different, Turk said. Bane is a little more laid back and quiet compared to Klein, who’s a bit more outgoing and vibrant.

“We were definitely pretty good rivals in high school and now its just complete opposite,” Bane said. “I was a little nervous coming in to see how we’d get along, but it’s turned out great.”

One thing both freshmen have in common is a competitive spirit. As the two shared success in Champaign at this past indoor Big Tens, they shared disappointment only a week after at the Alex Wilson Invitational at Notre Dame.

Klein and Bane were slated to compete in a last chance qualifier meet for nationals in South Bend, Ind. However, both saw disappointing results.

“I was very upset with Notre Dame,” Klein said. “I guess I was just really, really nervous and put too much pressure on myself.”

With a lot on the line for a second straight weekend, the freshmen failed to reach their desired marks.

“I got there and I was just flat,” Bane said. “It seemed like pretty much every vaulter there was flat.”

The outdoor season has been rather slow for the two vaulters, though Turk saw improvements last weekend at the Musco Twilight.

“Bryan Carrel the pole vault coach and I were watching the vault and we were talking about it and you can see they’re so close to breakthroughs,” Turk said.

“I think this is real close to where we were in indoors,” Turk said, as the two came on strong near the end of the indoor season. “I think they’re actually probably pretty much in line to peak at the right time, you know right now.”

The pair will have one last meet at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa, this weekend before the Big Ten Outdoor Championships begin May 13.

Through ups and downs this season, the two continue to work with each other and push each other.

“I was always told that good vaulters roll in packs,” Klein said. “So I think it’s a benefit to have multiple vaulters on your team.”