Seneca East’s Gregg claims pole vault title

Shortly after earning his third trip to state, Seneca East pole vaulter Zach Gregg found himself still competing.

No, it wasn’t at the pole vault pit. It was just behind the podium, where fellow state-qualifier Adam Alexander of Old Fort had challenged the other seven placers to a hand-walking contest.

While contestants eventually tumbled their way to the turf here and there, Gregg methodically made his way 17 yards down field – one yard farther than anyone else – before calmly planting his feet for another win.

It’s unlikely state officials will sanction such a coach-cringing event next week in Columbus, but even if they did, Seneca East coach Justin Ruffing wouldn’t be surprised if Gregg again just went out and performed.

After all, his impromptu upside-down win came shortly after outlasting what’s become a traditionally tough regional field of pole vaulters, made more so this year by rain during the early going.

Well, maybe tough for everyone but Gregg. For the senior, Ruffing said it was business as usual.

“I told him … before the meet it was another day at the office. Just take care of business, like he always does. He’s always done a good job,” Ruffing said.

“Some vaulters worry about the wind and the conditions; he just goes out and vaults, and he’s always done a real good job of that, not worrying about conditions and other factors,” he said.

Gregg cleared 14-8 to beat a field filled with friends on the first day of the Division III regional at Frost-Kalnow Stadium, giving the senior a big boost of confidence heading into the state meet.

“Definitely good feeling knowing that I’ve got a decent chance at state this year,” Gregg said.

“I’ve got a lot of friends here and I know they’re all pretty good vaulters,” he said. “The top four kids, they all went to [pole vault camp] with me. I know them really well.”

One of those friends is Alexander.

He, Bluffton’s Clay Wilson and Liberty-Benton’s Dyland Cornwell each cleared 14-4, but Alexander finished fourth on criteria while Wilson and Cornwell tied for second. The top four in each event qualify for the state meet.

Two others – Western Reserve’s Josh Sommers, who ended fifth, and Riverdale’s Seth Knoll, who took sixth – also made it over 13-6, meaning six of the 16 regional athletes attempted to go over 14 feet.

“It was fun watching. At 14 feet and you’ve still got six guys right there, that makes it interesting,” said Old Fort coach Tony Miller, himself a vaulter for the Stockaders a few decades before Alexander.

“Just like I told the L-B coach, it wouldn’t be regionals if you didn’t have tough pole vaulting for the boys,” he said.

Alexander won’t be the only Stockader at state, though the second qualifier had to overcome more than competitors.

Old Fort senior Molly Cleveland earned her berth by taking fourth in the high jump (5-0), two months after breaking the tibia in her right leg.

The break came a day or so after competing in an indoor meet.

Cleveland was working with a steer in her barn when the animal lunged toward her, Miller said. The senior tried to vault a fence, but caught her foot and broke her leg.

However, Cleveland saw a specialist and eventually improved to where she could begin jumping at the league meet.

Two weeks later, she earned her first trip to state in her third trip to the regional.

“The biggest thing is, for her to make it out with everything she’s had the past few months,” Miller said. “It was still giving her problems, but she worked through it.

“We practiced a couple days. She was hobbling, but she was jumping pretty well,” he said. “She was getting over 5 feet [in practices], and I though if she could do that, she’d do well.”

Meanwhile, several other area athletes advanced to Friday’s regional finals.

Lakota’s Cariss Reese moved on to Friday in the girls 100 hurdles (16.47) and 300 hurdles (46.91).

Carey’s 4×200 (1:48.7) and 4×400 (4:17.6) also advanced. Sara Craig, Lauren Wenner, Gwen Wentling and Amber Spurlock ran the 4×200, and Wentling, Haley Heinze, Craig and Spurlock ran the 4×400.

St. Wendelin’s Victoria Volpe, Jocelyn Reinhart, Maddie Borer and Sophia Volpe ended fifth in the 4×800 (9:53.71).

In the boys meet, Carey’s Kyle Swartz ended fifth in the discus (153-9).

Hopewell-Loudon’s Noah Breidenbach advanced to finals in two events, making it in the 400 (51.7) and as a member of the 4×200 (1:33.59). Elancio Velasquez, Patric Gase and Eli Tooker filled out the relay.

Adam Hall, Gregg, Isaac Phillips and Brayden Walker will run the 4×100 (45.34) for Seneca East.