LONGMONT -- Longmont's Steven Wacker set the state's highest pole vault mark this spring regardless of classification in the first meet of the season and he's been chasing it ever since.
The Trojans senior will defend his 2011 4A pole vault title on Saturday at the 2012 state track and field championships at Jefferson County Stadium in Denver. Wacker is hoping he can slide back into the groove he found when he cleared 15 feet, 7 inches at the season-opening RE-1J track meet.
"Right away I started off good and I started going through some pole issues and other stuff," Wacker said. "Recently at practice, I've been jumping pretty good and I'm definitely feeling good for Saturday."
Wacker won last season's 4A pole vault state title with a 14-foot, 6-inch jump last season. With a much tougher field this year, that jump is closer to the opening height for his toughest competition for a repeat title this season.
Wacker's toughest competition includes a slew of familiar faces, as Boulder County vaulters own four of the top eight marks this season regardless of classification. Trojans teammate Derek Wing and Niwot's Dillon Manzanares will challenge Wacker for the 4A title, while Boulder's Mackenzie Felkley is seeded second in the 5A competition.
"Ever since my freshman year I've been jumping with some of these guys," Wacker said. "This year and last year, we've all just exploded and it's become great. It's really cool, but you have a take a much more serious approach. Everybody wants it really bad and it's just gonna come down to who worked the hardest and who wants it the most."
Wing was ranked first entering last year's 4A state meet before he injured his hip flexor a week before the meet. After settling for seventh, he's gunning for the top spot his senior year.
"You haven't really seen that for a while," Wing said. "Two teammates, this high and each have a chance of winning state. You've got to come out and beat your teammate. You don't want to say that, but it's got to be done. We're going for one and two, we just don't know who's gonna win yet. Senior year, going out one and two would be a big bang."
Manzanares took second in 4A last year. He said the pole vault isn't always as cutthroat as some other events, and he has come to know all the Boulder County vaulters through four years of competition.
It will be interesting, Manzanares said, to see what happens their final time facing each other and wouldn't be surprised if they approach the 4A state meet record of 15 feet, 8 1/2 inches.
"It's the same people from last year and we're all around the same level and it'll be interesting to see who comes out on top," Manzanares said. "It's fun to have a big competition just in the group in general. Conference was a big competition and it's been the same people throughout. Now it's everyone and it's for everything."
Entering the state meet seeded second with a 15-foot jump, Felkley wants to break the Boulder High record of 15 feet, 2 inches.
"When I started pole vaulting for Boulder High it was always in the back of my mind but more of a dream than a goal," said Felkley, who will be joined at state by teammates Ian Morrissey on the boys side and Zoe Robb on the girls side. "Junior year was when I really started pushing to break it and thinking I could actually do it. I started working hard in the offseason to try and get it by the end of senior season."
Warren Franz, pole vault coach at Longmont since 1980, said Boulder County has been at the top of the pole vault heap for a while now.
"It's not just this season, the Boulder County area has been dominating for a long time," Franz said. "Part of it is good coaches coming in and people dedicating themselves to learning about the vault and coaching the vault. It's also Above the Bar and Pat Manson and John Carmony and those guys over there. Kids are going to camps in the summertime and getting a lot of coaching in the offseason."
Wacker, Wing, Manzanares and Felkley all practice at Above the Bar Pole Vaulting, a training facility in Boulder run by Manson, a three-time Pan Am Games gold medalist who has held the Colorado prep record of 17-71/2 since 1986.
While Boulder County might be well-known for its talented pole vaulters, area schools seem to have raised their status in the event this year to a whole new height with 27 state qualifiers overall.
Broomfield's Isaac Wilson, Silver Creek's Scott Baldwin and Eric Monahan, Centaurus' Samuel Estrella and Erie's Justin Vang round out the eight Boulder County vaulters in the 20-athlete 4A boys field.
Erie's Haley Gallagher, Niwot's Haylie Johns, Ariel Mosier and Paige Hillen, Broomfield's Emma Jacobs, Centaurus' Katie Dishman, Silver Creek's Jade Vandersteen will comprise one third of the 4A girls pole vault field.
In the 2A girls pole vault, Lyons qualified Victoria Arling, Amber Boyington, Brittany King and Austen Frankhouser. They also qualified Tullef Rudlong, James Hinker, Trent Poulsen and Kelten Tschanz on the boys side.
Shining Mountain's Chloe Weber, meanwhile, is seeded fifth in 1A.
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