COLUMBUS Two years after ending one place and six inches away from the podium, Nathan Alexander came within four inches of the top spot.
The senior became just the third Old Fort boy to ever place at state in the pole vault Friday, clearing 14-8 to capture second on a blustery, cold day more reminiscent of the start of the season than its finale.
But while the final height wasn't the personal best he'd hoped for (he cleared 15-6 earlier this year), the runner-up finish was more than enough.
"That's what I was hoping for the whole time. Since I was a sophomore, I came here, top eight got on the podium, I got [in a tie for] ninth," said Alexander, who's taking his vaulting skills to the University of Cincinnati. "The main thing I wanted to do today was get top eight, anything else was just an added bonus, so I'm happy."
It didn't come easily.
In one of the coldest, windiest state meets in Ohio history, Alexander and the other vaulters combated a stiff cross wind all afternoon long, which came after a morning-long rain and a day-long cold spell.
Though the rain dried up and the cold was a bit challenging, the wind proved to be the biggest nemesis the cross wind treated the pole like a sail during each approach, forcing vaulters into a battle to steady their poles and solidly plant them, while the tail wind pushed vaulters past their normal takeoff spot.
"Very tough conditions for the state track meet. This is usually stuff we run into in mid-April," said Liberty-Benton assistant coach Tim Decooman, who also helped Alexander over the past few years.
"The last year he's put so much effort into the winter months and really worked on improving his steps and technique," he said "It was paying off, and today, that cross wind, tailwind was not any good conditions for any of the vaulters. The heights were really low compared to what we thought was going to happen, but I'm glad he got up there because he worked hard for it."
Sugar Grove Berne Union's Jesse Oxley cleared 15 feet to take the top prize, with Chillicothe Huntington's Logan Chaney (14-4) and Minster's A.J. Huelsman (14-0) rounding out the only four vaulters who topped 14 feet.
Two other area athletes competed in the pole vault.
Carey's Cory Larick became a two-time state placer, tying for eighth by topping out at 13-6. Seneca East's Zach Gregg also took part, but was one of two competitors who did not clear the opening height.
Larick ended sixth in 2011 and felt the weather would aid him in getting at least that high on the podium again this year, but that didn't happen.
"It is colder and everything, but it actually did the complete opposite of what I thought the outcome would be, because I thought today could actually be a good day with the cold weather, because the hot weather actually made my poles softer and I get deeper in the pit. But today I actually was getting deeper in the pit and I have no idea why.
"I came in at 13-6, but I clear it pretty easy any other day. It was a really bad day, like, a terrible day."
But not as bad a day as defending state champ Tyler Wolfe of Columbus Grove had. He likely would have added to the number of vaulters topping 14 feet, but he broke his foot in practice during the week leading up to state and could not compete.
"It's conflicting emotions," Alexander said. "I feel awful because I've been at meets when you just can't compete. I was injured last year and that feeling of helplessness you're there at the meet and you can't do it physically is the worst. I felt awful for him.
"It's hard, though. Even your best friends in pole vault, you're hoping that they'll do well, but even your best friends are sitting there hoping they'll get a better height [than you]," he said. "It's conflicting emotions."
But one of joy for the Old Fort faithful, which includes coach Tony Miller.
"He's one of the hardest vaulting workers I've had over the years. I've had some good vaulters, he is the the best I've had. I was glad to see him have the success he had this year," said Miller, one of Old Fort's other two state-placing vaulters (he took fifth, and Bob Kine claimed second in the 1950s).
"He's only one of three who placed at the state meet," Miller said. "He's a good vaulter. Tim, he's done one heck of a job with him, and so have a couple other vaulting coaches. I hope he can have a good college career."