Sam Houston State sophomore Clayton Fritsch is now a budding international track and field star.

Fritsch won the pole vault competition for Team USA at the 2019 U-23 North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletics Association Championships Sunday in Querétaro, Mexico. His mark of 18 feet, 4 ½ inches also set the meet record.

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

Fritsch’s teammate, Kansas freshman Zach Bradford, also cleared 18 feet, 4 ½ inches, but it was on his second attempt which gave Fritsch the lead after he cleared that height on his first vault. Both missed all three attempts at the next height to seal the victory for Fritsch.

Rice freshman Natan Rivera from El Salvador placed third (16 feet, 9 inches).

 “I cleared it on my first attempt, and it was definitely a good thing I did,” Fritsch said. “I knew the competition would come down to me and Zach and being able to put the pressure on him first definitely helped me feel better going into the next height.”

Fritsch earned his opportunity to represent Team USA at the NACAC championships when he became the first Bearkat to earn a medal in May at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Austin. He topped 18 feet, 10 ¼ inches, the fifth-highest jump in the history of the meet, which was good enough to place third.

The height moved Fritsch into seventh place in the world rankings and placed him third in the U-23 U.S performance rankings behind Chris Nilsen (19 feet, 6 ¼ inches) and Bradford (18 feet, 11 inches). Nilsen declined to participate at the NACAC.

Fritsch was named a first-team All-American by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association following the outdoor season. He also placed seventh at the NCAA indoor championships last fall, which also makes him the first Sam Houston State student-athlete to be both an indoor and outdoor first-team All-American honoree.

The NACAC championships, which featured athletes from more than 25 countries, marked the first time Fritsch traveled out of the country to compete on the international level.

“This competition definitely gave me a slight boost in confidence moving forward,” Fritsch said. “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.”