BOZEMAN — (Editor's Note: Montana State Press Release)
Montana State track and field added a new assistant coach to the program with a strong pedigree at the Division I level as Lyle Weese announced Monday that Craig Hunter has been hired on to the Bobcat staff ahead of the 2021-22 season. Hunter takes over responsibilities of MSU's pole vault event, and will assist with the multis group, following the retirement of longtime coach Tom Eitel at the end of June.
Hunter has spent the previous two seasons as a volunteer assistant coach at the University of Alabama specializing with the Tide's pole vaulters. He also spent a year coaching the jumps events at The College of Jersey following an All-America college career at UConn.
"Craig Hunter brings a great deal of energy and enthusiasm to coaching and working with student-athletes," said Weese, MSU's Dale Kennedy Director of Track and Field. "His passion for the pole vault, combined with his personal competitive experience and impressive record of improvement in the vaulters he has coached, is exciting to add to our coaching staff."
Hunter's last two years at Alabama were capped this June with vaulter Ryan Lipe earning First Team All-America honors by taking sixth at the NCAA Championships in Eugene. Lipe broke Alabama's outdoor pole vault record – which had been held since 1972 – this outdoor slate as he increased his lifetime best to 18 feet, 4.50 inches (5.60m) over the course of the season. Lipe earned three medals at SEC Championships in three possible opportunities under Hunter's tutelage.
The new MSU coach also aided in the development of Jacob Spotswood whose top exploits came in the multis. Spotswood, who cleared 17 feet in the vault during his college career, claimed First Team All-America honors at the NCAA Indoor Championships in March with a program-record 5,715-point total in the heptathlon.
Hunter's tenure at Alabama focused on overseeing the full development of pole vaulters which included workout planning, technical coaching and academic success. His year at The College of Jersey was spent working primarily with the pole vault event, but he also assisted with technical coaching in high jump, long jump and triple jump.
"I'm really excited to be here and get started working with our athletes," Hunter said. "Ever since I applied for the job, as I looked and researched into the program, it seemed like a really good group of people at a great place to be. I really felt a sense of togetherness and camaraderie in the coaching staff throughout the hiring process and I think that's a key component to a team that's ready to succeed.
"My main goal working with my group is going to be consistency. Year after year I want our group to be among the conference favorites and to create an environment that if you want to be one of the best in the Big Sky Conference, Montana State is the school to go to. I'm really looking forward to working towards the program's goals, helping get us some PR's and creating some good people in the process."
Hunter jumped into the coaching ranks after a highly successful college career for the UConn Huskies.
UConn's record holder in both the indoor and outdoor pole vault, Hunter was a three-time All-American for the Huskies. He claimed a bronze medal at the American Athletic Indoor Championships as a freshman in 2014 and eventually made five total podium appearances at conference meets. Hunter was a two-time First Team All-America performer with his best showing a fourth-place finish at the 2016 NCAA Outdoor Championships that came from a personal-best clearance of 17-10.50 (5.45m).
Hunter closed out his UConn career in 2018 by winning his lone pole vault conference title at the AAC Outdoor Championships. He made it to the NCAA Outdoor Championships for a final time that June and finished 16th overall at historic Hayward Field.
"With the retirement of Tom Eitel, it was incredibly important to make sure we had a pole vault coach on staff that can continue the tradition of success from coach Eitel in the event," Weese said. "As we build off the momentum from the 2021 outdoor track and field season, it will be exciting to see what coach Hunter and coach Cichosz can accomplish as they work together to create a great experience and accomplish big things with the jump, pole vault, and multi event student-athletes.