In 2016 – the season before Pritchard’s arrival at NDSU – the Bison women and men combined to score 42 team points in the long jump and triple jump at the Summit League Championships.
In 2019, the Bison racked up a remarkable 145 points in the long jump and triple jump at the conference meets – multiplying their output by nearly 3 1/2 times. In the men’s short sprints, Pritchard coached J.T. Butler into NDSU’s all-time Top 5 in the 60m dash (6.84), indoor 200m (21.63), and outdoor 200m (20.94) in the 2019 season, earning a qualifying spot at the NCAA West Preliminary Rounds.
Pritchard took over pole vault coaching duties prior to the 2019 season and has guided four Bison women to personal-bests that rank among the Top 10 in school history, including two freshmen in 2020.
Pritchard came to NDSU after two seasons (2014-16) as a volunteer assistant coach at Nebraska, where he worked with the Huskers’ jumpers and pole vaulters. He served as the head girls’ track & field coach at Leavenworth (Kan.) High School from 2010-14 and also has experience running instructional camps for the jumps and pole vault.
“Clayton has the experience of being at a Big Ten program and recruiting and coaching at a high level,” said NDSU women’s head coach Stevie Keller upon his hire. “You can’t place a value on experiencing success and expecting success. We’re excited to add him to our staff, and for him to bring his energy and knowledge to our program.”
Alongside head coach Gary Pepin, Pritchard coached his athletes to impressive success in his stint at Nebraska, highlighted by women’s jumper Tierra Williams placing fifth at both the 2016 NCAA Indoor Championships and NCAA Outdoor Championships in the triple jump. Williams also swept the Big Ten long jump and triple jump titles indoor and outdoor in 2016, as well as finishing 15th in the triple jump at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
The Huskers had six women’s place winners in the horizontal jumps at the 2016 Big Ten Conference Outdoor Championships – the most in the conference.
Pritchard earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education from Mid-America Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan., in 2007 and his master’s degree in health, physical education, and recreation from Emporia State University in 2015. While at MNU, Pritchard was a four-year letter-winner in football as a wide receiver and a three-year letter-winner in track & field as a jumper.
Q: Who from your group do you expect to make some noise this year and who do you see taking a big step forward?
A: Honestly, I think everybody is ready to make some really, really big strides. On the horizontal side, I expect Jodi Lipp, Alissa Melvin and Grace Emineth to be really good again, but Daejah is going to be right there also and she’s primarily a high jumper. On the men’s side, I’m expecting big things out of Brandon Lewis and Hunter Merkley again. In high jump, we’ve got a pretty young group and an old group which is pretty diverse. But Elijah Hylen, I think, is ready to be a big boy. He has had a really good fall and I’m excited to see what he can do.
Q: Is there anything different you’ve tried to implement in training over this offseason?
A: I kind of rewrote our training a little bit. Now, it’s much more speed-oriented than we would have been in the past and I see our group a lot more fit, a lot stronger. They’re able to hit some better positions and do a lot more in practice.
Q: Is there anything that inspired you to take that route?
A: Just trying to get outside of my box a little bit. I think it’s important to grow and to continue to evolve. I think a lot of coaches get stuck in a box and they’re comfortable doing the same thing over and over again. If you do that, you’re just going to get the same results. We don’t want that. As a group, athletically, we are ready to take that next step and compete with the big boys and big girls at the national level. We just have to put the puzzle pieces together. So I thought, “you know what, it’s on my shoulders to get outside of my box and do some new things to see if we can get to that next level.”
Q: Did you always want to coach?
A: I did. I had a high school coach that was really big in me wanting to be a coach. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a stockbroker. I thought that was my route. And then, I remember being at the high school track meet and one of my buddies was on the runway and when he finished, I went over to him before my coach got to him and said, “Hey, this is what I saw and this is what you probably need to think about doing.” And my coach came up to me afterwards and said, “Hey, you know, you should probably think about being a coach and a teacher.” And that stuck with me. So, I ended up going to school and got my degree in physical education and taught for nine years. And here I am coaching at the collegiate level.
Q: What do you think specifically has allowed you to be successful in this?
A: I’ve had a lot of really good mentors. But definitely at this level, my wife has been so supportive and allowed me to do a lot of these different things. So I give her a lot of credit. But I think just having great mentors, great teachers—people that you can call and ask questions to and bounce ideas off of, is a big deal.