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Raising the bar

West Valley junior pole vaulter Joseph Aubert tied the record at the 2A district track championship last weekend and qualified for state track meet with a jump of 14 feet. His highest jump this year has been 14-1. (J. BART RAYNIAK)
West Valley junior pole vaulter Joseph Aubert tied the record at the 2A district track championship last weekend and qualified for state track meet with a jump of 14 feet. His highest jump this year has been 14-1. (J. BART RAYNIAK)

West Valley’s 6-foot-5 pole vaulter Joseph Aubert has high hopes for record-setting achievements

At 6-foot-5, Joseph Aubert figures he’s that much closer to his goal than those he competes against. It’s rare that the West Valley High School junior looks a competitor in the eye. And he wants to maintain his lofty perspective after today’s Class 2A state track meet pole vault competition at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma.

Aubert is one of just eight vaulters in class 3A to have cleared 14 feet this season. His personal best height of 14-1 is the fourth-best going into state. Two senior vaulters from R.A. Long High School in Longview, Wash., have cleared 15-0 and 14-6 respectively. A junior from Washougal cleared 14-4.

On paper, that should make for serious battle for the top step on the awards stand.

“It really should,” he agreed. “This is what it’s all about. This is where you have to get it done.

“This is going to be a real test. It’s the maximum test. This whole field is capable of clearing 15 feet. It may take more than that to win it.”

Knowing that has made the long wait for the call to jump a trial all its own.

“It’s hard to wait,” he said. “I’m just trying to make sure I keep visualizing what I need to do. A big part of success in this event is visualization. You have to visualize success.”

Aubert has made steady improvement since taking up the event as a freshman, when Matt Colyar took over as pole vault coach for the Eagles.

“I originally came out to do the long jump and the hurdles,” he said. “But there was a brand-new coach and he was holding tryouts. I decided to give it a try and I just loved it – it’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever tried.”

That first season Aubert cleared 12 feet at the Great Northern League district meet. Last year he upped that personal best mark by a foot at the Mooberry Relays and maintained that through the district meet. He finished one spot shy of qualifying for state a year ago.

This year he cleared 14-1 at a GNL dual meet with Medical Lake and cleared 14-0 at districts to win the event and earn his state berth.

“The way it’s worked for me is that, once I clear I height, I pretty much own it,” he said. “Once I’ve cleared a height, I know I can clear it again. I don’t backslide.”

This weekend, he said, 14 feet won’t get the job done – barring some unforeseen circumstance like inclement weather. On his part, Aubert said he will not be satisfied unless he raises the bar on his own personal best.

“I want to go 15-0 this weekend and if I jump less than 14-6, I’m going to be disappointed in myself – even if I win, if I don’t at least clear 14-6, it’s going to feel like I let myself down,” he said. “My plan has been to go 15 this year and clear 16-1 next year.”

That latter number would put Aubert on the large plaque that holds a place of honor outside the school’s gym. On it are listed school record holders in every track and field event.

“The school record in the pole vault is 16-0 and it was set in 1999 by Rick Collins,” he said with no hesitation – the number is burned into his memory. “I want to leave here with the school record.”

Aubert has a strong support group with him. Teammate Luke Konzal cleared 12-6 to make the state field, and Colyar will be there.

“I love having Luke there,” Aubert said. “I try to not pay much attention to other jumpers in the field, but I always watch Luke and I am so glad he’s going to be there. We’ve been jumping together for so long that we know we can turn to each other and ask what we’re doing wrong and get a straight answer.”

Aubert said he has his strategy planned out ahead of time. He plans to use a familiar pole to get himself established and then trust his coach.

“For me, it’s going to be all about getting onto the right pole, a bigger pole,” he said. “If I’m going to clear 15 feet, I need to get on a pole that can get me up and over.

“I don’t think of my height as an obstacle. I just think that being 6-5 just puts me that much closer to my goal. But that is my biggest challenge – getting my feet up and over my head.”

Success comes down to what happens in the top half of the jump, he explained. The challenge is to get his long frame up and over the bar – a bigger challenge for someone who stands head and shoulders over much of his competition.

“That’s where all the time in the weight room pays off,” he said. “Last year I wasn’t strong enough to be able to control the kind of pole you need to get over a height like this. This year I can, and that’s been the key to getting up there.

“That’s where I just trust my coach. I trust him completely. When he tells me to switch poles, I will.”