Chris Nilsen Named Field Athlete Of Year

South Dakota junior pole vaulter Chris Nilsen, left, chats with pole vault coach Derek Miles during a home meet in the 2019 season in Vermillion. Nilsen, who set the NCAA indoor record in the men's pole vault this season, was named the USTFCCCA National Indoor Field Athlete of the Year, announced Thursday.

NEW ORLEANS—South Dakota senior Chris Nilsen has been voted the National Indoor Field Athlete of the Year by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) as announced on Thursday.

This marks South Dakota’s first National Athlete of the Year in the Division I era. The Coyotes boasted six National Athlete of the Year honors during the program’s Division II years with the most recent coming in 2000.

Nilsen, a three-time NCAA Champion, broke the NCAA indoor record in the pole vault this season with a clearance of 19 feet, 5 ½ inches (5.93m). The height makes him the No. 4 indoor performer in American history and the No. 15 indoor performer in world history.

Hailing from Kansas City, Missouri, Nilsen vaulted past 19 feet three times during February and was looking for his fourth NCAA title when the meet was canceled 24 hours prior from competition beginning.

Nilsen has broken the 19-foot barrier a total of 14 times in his career.

In addition to his three NCAA titles, Nilsen has a pair of runner-up finishes and a bronze. He never finished lower than third at a national meet. Nilsen captured back-to-back national titles in 2018 and 2019 with two new meet records. He broke a 22-year-old record in 2018, then vaulted a personal best of 19-6 ¼ in 2019 to improve the NCAA meet record by another five inches.

Nilsen was voted the USTFCCCA’s Midwest Indoor Field Athlete of the Year for the second time this season. It was his fourth overall regional athlete of the year award with two others in the outdoor season.

Nilsen is also a two-time semifinalist for The Bowerman.

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