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Soaring to new heights: Gainesville's Malquist vaulting towards state title
Gainesville High’s Paul Malquist will be taking his considerable pole vaulting skills to Jefferson today to compete for a state title. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

State track meet

When: Noon today

Where: Bryan-Keen Track, Jefferson

The story of how Paul Malquist became the state’s best pole vaulter is simple.

As a seventh-grader, his middle school team needed a pole vaulter so he tried it, liked it and subsequently worked at it.

This season, at a region meet that included Flowery Branch, Chestatee, West Hall and Johnson; Gainesville’s Malquist cleared a school record 15-feet, 8-inches — the best competition vault in any classification this season by almost a foot (Mill Creek’s Michael Kopanski is second at 14-10) and better than his second-place finish at the state meet in 2008 (13-6).

But that isn’t where the story ends — Malquist begins competition today for his first state title.

"He’s the favorite coming in with his 15-8," Gainesville track coach Todd Wofford said. "There’s a guy at St. Pius that’s gone 15-3, but I like (Malquist’s) chances."

The junior has been working out at Jefferson’s Bryan-Keen track this week in preparation for the state meet, and the 16 feet vault he and his coach are shooting for.

"I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to get it," Malquist said. "Regardless though, I’m ready to compete and show people what I’ve got."

For Wofford, what Malquist’s got thus far is the perfect mixture of athleticism and fearlessness; a combo that could catapult him to a state title and beyond.

"To be a pole vaulter you have to have a bit of an edge," Wofford said. "He has that, but he’s also just a great athlete."

As evidenced by his second-place and state-qualifying finish in the 400-meter, where he set a personal record of 50.88 seconds, and third-place finish in the 300-meter hurdles — in only his third time ever competing in the event — at the Region 7-AAA track meet.

"He could be a decathlete," said Wofford of Malquist, who was also part of the 4x100 relay team that finished fourth at region. "He’s getting looked at by Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Gardner-Webb, Alabama and Tennessee with some looking at him being only a pole vaulter, and some wanting him to do the decathalon."

For Malquist, however, pole vaulting is his passion.

"I love it because everything’s so technical," he said. "The vault comes so fast, and coming down feels really good."

Malquist is currently using a pole that is 25 pounds heavier than the one he used last year, giving him more of the slingshot effect needed to reach new heights.

"I’m fast and strong which helps me get on bigger poles," Malquist said. "The more weight you can carry, the more whip you get."

While Malquist will be competing in the 400 and the pole vault, he isn’t the only local athlete hoping to win a state title this weekend in Jefferson.

Flowery Branch’s Daniel Drummond will attempt to defend his state title in the discus. He threw 171-9 in 2008 to take the title and threw a 170-11 to win region this year. He will also be competing in the shot put, an event he placed second in at state in 2008.

Also competing in field events today will be Jefferson’s Tyler Porter in the pole vault; Buford’s Demonte Nelson, Gainesville’s Chris West and Habersham Central’s Justin Fleming in the high jump; Banks County’s Lyn Hester in the shot put; Riverside Military’s Aaron Gambrah, Jefferson’s Josh Kles, North Hall’s Peyton Wilhoite and Habersham Central’s Nick MacMillan in the discus; Jefferson’s Zac Crosby in the long jump and Flowery Branch’s Jamele Mitchum in both the long jump and the triple jump.

North Hall’s Nolan Clark and Ty McCormack will end the day competing in the 1600-meter run finals.

Runners will take to the track Friday with preliminary races and the 3200-meter final. All other running finals will take place Saturday beginning at noon.

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