JEFFERSON — Flowery Branch senior Austin Eckenroth didn’t have his best day Thursday at the Georgia Olympics.
Yet it was still better than the rest of the pole vaulting competition in Class AAAA.
Eckenroth vaulted 15 feet, 5.75 inches on his first try to defend his state title at Memorial Stadium and tie the Class AAAA record, but he couldn’t match his sectional height of 16 feet.
“I’m glad I won, but the main goal was to come and get the all-time record of 16-9,” the South Carolina signee said. “But I’m happy with the win, I can’t be disapointed with it.”
Eckenroth didn’t even begin jumping until 15 feet, when only two competitors remained in Starr’s Mill’s Richard Berthold and Marist’s Nathan Daniel.
Eckenroth cleared it easily on the first try and Daniel made it on the second to stay alive. But, after Daniel broke the pole on his first try at 15-6, Eckenroth cleared the height nearly as easily as he had 15 to grab a second state title after Daniel missed all three tries.
Eckenroth actually cleared 15-5.75 on the vault after the handlers put the bar lower after the broken bar. He appealed through coach Jimmy Sorrells because he had not been notified of the new height, but the ruling was upheld due to the height being measured before Eckenroth’s jump.
A vault of 15-6, which Eckenroth thought he had accomplished at first, would have tied Class AAAAA champion James Wink of Harrison for best performance honors.
“It’s not right,” Eckenroth said. “I thought I was jumping 15-6.”
For his try at 16 feet the Falcons senior went to his longer pole, one on which he had cleared 16-8 during the season.
But in three tries he came short of setting a new AAAA record.
“I had great warmups,” He said. “It was just that the pressure got to me.”
In the Class A pole vault finals, it was Riverside junior Skyler Toney who provided the pressure on eventual state champion Levi Cummings from Athens Christian.
“Giving Levi a run for his money,” Toney said. “That’s all I wanted to do.”
On the way he set a personal record with a jump of 13 feet and finished second overall in his first ever trip to Jefferson.
Both pole vaulters ceared the height on their third and final tries, and Cummings cleared 13-6 on his first. Toney couldn’t get higher than 13.
“I was very happy with that height,” he said. “It was nice to be so competitive.”
Especially after losing his sophomore season to injury.
The first week of practice in 2011, in early March, Toney fell 11 feet onto his head while practicing. He suffered a Grade 3 concussion, a sepearted left shoulder, two broken hands and a bruised hip and had to spend the night in the hospital.
To come back a year later and make a run at a state title was just the icing on the cake of a year of recovery.
“Coming back and being state runner-up, it’s nice,” he added. “Now I’m just going to win it next year.”
Jefferson sophomore Mason Hamrick is also very determined after his finish in the Class AA pole vault.
The 2011 state champion slipped to third this year with a jump of 13-6 after coming back from major reconstructive surgery on his foot.
He was trying for 14-6, the height that friend Jared Scotland, of Hart County, cleared after securing a state title.
“I’m tickled to death for him,” Hamrick said, “but I don’t want to hurt like this ever again.
“I’m coming back out here next week and working my butt off over the summer.”
Fellow Dragon James Howard finished fourth at 13 feet, and Buford’s David Curry, who also cleared 13, finished fifth.
In Class AAA, North Hall’s Chase Yarbrough finished 11th at 11 feet. The area success wasn’t confined to the pole vault pits.
Trojans senior Imani Cross finished seventh in the shot put with a throw of 49 feet, 2 inches, and in the 1600, North Hall’s Witt Nix finished sixth (4:26.32) and Bryce Schuebert finished 11th (4:34.65). Gainesville’s Marcquel Woodard finished eigth in the event with a 4:27.60.
Also, East Hall’s Isaac Mize jumped 6 feet to finish 13th in the high jump, Lumpkin County's Skyler Jackson finished fifth with a jump of 6-2, White County’s Ryan Kennedy finished 12th in the long jump (20-04.50) and Dalton Whitfield finished fifth in the discus (154-10) for the Warriors.
Dekerrio Ramsey finished fourth in the Class A long jump for Commerce with a jump of 21-1.
In the Class AAAA discus, Habersham Central’s Neil Latham finished 13th with a throw of 131-06. In Class AA, Banks County’s Adner McCright finished 15th with a throw of 121-03 and Jefferson senior Carson Newman finished fifth with a throw of 144-04.
Newman did what had been expected of him, but not what he expected of himself.
“I had a lot more potential than what I displayed,” he said. “But I’ve got to take the good with the bad, it’s still a blessing to place.”
Newman is now headed off to the University of the Cumberlands on a football scholarship, where he plans to continue track and field, as well.
For Eckenroth, South Carolina awaits. Now that his high school days are over, he has a new goal.
“I want to do well in the SEC Championships,” he said. “Every time you have a bad day, you can learn from it and improve.”