The sky was dark as the rapidly setting sun was covered by clouds, a cold wind blew from the east and a tense crowd lined the pole vault runway at East Valley.
Everyone had plenty of time to size up the situation as the pole vault stretched out the better part of 90 minutes after all the other events were done Thursday evening. East Valley’s girls had ended West Valley’s five-year reign as Frontier League champions by dominating the jumps 26-1 for an 82-68 win.
However, the boys were tied at 68. Obviously, it was winner-take-all with five points for first, three for second and one for third, and it appeared it was going to take all night as six vaulters cleared 12 feet, 6 inches and four cleared 13 feet.
When EV’s Jake Kammers matched WV’s sophomore Rick Collins’ 13-6 vault, the shivering crowd knew there probably weren’t a lot of good vaults left.
What very few people knew was who had the fewest misses as the bar was raised to 13-9.
Collins was right where he wanted to be.
He didn’t hesitate, soaring over the bar on his first attempt. Kammers had three aborted runs before narrowly missing, and then he wasn’t close on his final attempt.
As a result, West Valley won 74,71.
“When it comes down to competition, I can step it up,” Collins said. “When I heard East Valley cheer at 13 feet and boo for us, I just wanted to win. That drove me that much harder. I got nervous at 13-9 when he vaulted, but the more times he retried, I felt better. I would have lost by quite a few misses.”
That capped a dramatic meet that, despite the weather, had a number of superb performances, none better than West Valley distance runner Clayton Holmes’ triple.
After winning the 800 and 1,600, he lined up for the 3,200 and watched East Valley’s Dustin Sletner take off.
“I knew he went out too hard. I think he was trying to lure us out,” Holmes said. “He’s a good runner so I was a little concerned.”
West Valley’s Dave McNeil took control in the second half as Sletner faded, leaving Holmes and teammate Sean McLachlan to battle EV’s Marshall Greene for the important sweep.
“I’ve never tripled before except for the 4x4. That’s different,” Holmes said. “My legs felt pretty good but I lost track of the laps until I heard the bell.”
The last lap was a battle as all three runners surged and then sprinted to a near-photo finish, with Holmes second and McLachlan third.
“I just wanted to get points,” Holmes said.
East Valley’s Jerry Claridge set the tone for the chess match early in the day, running his first 100 since eighth grade and roaring to victory in 11.1 seconds.
“Tuesday, the coach asked me to run the 100,” he said. “I usually run the 4x4. I had to work on my (start), I didn’t know what I’d do. I just ran. I heard (WV’s Devon) Tensley snorting behind me, so I just tried to stay ahead. I think I was timed last year sometime and it was like 11.6. I think I can run faster with someone pushing me. I hope Coach lets me run that again.”
Claridge went on to win the long and triple jumps and was second in the high jump.
The close score magnified WV’s win in the 400 relay, accomplished only when EV dropped the baton on the final handoff.
“I’ve been in a few but I think this one, as far as drama goes, had everything Shakespeare would appreciate,” WV coach Jim McLachlan said. “It couldn’t have gone down to a better event for us. Everyone probably went pretty much according to plan. We lost three points in the 100, the 400 relay went bad for them. That kind of stuff happens.”
In the girls competition, East Valley freshman Crystal Gerky got the Knights some points when she won the 400, holding off WV’s Cindy Simpson.
“I was kind of worried but I had a feeling I could do it,” Gerky said. “I kind of like pressure. It helps me get out there faster and work harder.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos (1 color)
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