By Jamie Baker
COLUMBUS -- Friday’s 16-foot jump by Columbus Grove’s Heath Nickles in the Division III boys pole vault was probably the first of many at Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Stadium for the Bulldog senior standout.
Nickles successfully defended his Division III state pole vault championship and set a new Division III meet and interscholastic record with a jump of 16-1½ to lead the way in the boys field events at the 101st OHSAA state track and field championships.
Nickles, who has already signed to compete in the decathlon for Ohio State University beginning next season, was at the top of his game Friday as many of the other competitors in the event struggled.
He cleared 14-feet and 14-8 on his first two vaults. That’s all it would take to wrap up his second straight state pole vault crown.
The 2006 state pole vault champ and University of Florida decathlon signee Gray Horn of Waynesfield-Goshen, failed to clear his starting height of 14-8 and aggravated a hamstring injury on his final try.
With no other competitors remaining and a state championship assured, it was all about the state record Nickles has chased for three long years.
“Coming into this meet I didn’t know if it was going to happen I was praying for some good weather,” said Nickles, who will try and defend his state title in the 300 hurdles in Saturday morning’s finals.
“I knew the heat was there but the wind was scaring me a little bit. It kind of changed and it didn’t have as much of an effect.”
He cleared 15-4 on his first try and missed on his first two tries to at a state record height of 16-1½. After conferring with vault coach Bob Baxter, Nickles switched from a 15-foot pole to a 16-footer.
What followed was the second-highest vault in Ohio high school track history.
“I ran as fast as I could, planted the pole as hard as I could and threw my body over the bar,” said Nickles, who broke the previous state record of 16-1 set by Newcomerstown’s Jamie Lewis in 1995.
Nickles broke into a frenzied display of emotion after setting the state record. He jumped up from the pit, arms raised, fists clenched and gave Baxter a giant bear hug.
“It’s been building up for about two years. I couldn’t help it, I couldn’t control my body,” Nickles said. “I’m still shaking, I went crazy, I couldn’t help it. Everyone went crazy, I had to show my emotions.”
He had three solid attempts at 16-4½ to break the all-state record of 16-4 held by John Coyne of Medina Buckeye (1986) but he just missed on each try.
Three other area boys also earned spots on the state meet awards stand.
Bluffton senior Kory Place earned eight critical points for the Pirates who are hoping to win the school’s first-ever state track team title.
Place saved his best for last as he put together a season-best throw of 56-2¾ on his final toss of the day to claim second place.
“We needed me to finish in the top three for us to have a legitimate shot at winning state. It put a little pressure on but I was still pretty relaxed and threw well,” said Place. “(On the) very last throw it actually came off my hand wrong, but it still went that far.”
Carey junior Corey Harrold was happy yet disappointed by his fifth place finish in the discus. He did put together his best effort of the season as he let out a little whoop when he put together a school-record throw of 167-2 in the finals.
“It’s my best throw ever, but I could have done better,“ said Harrold, who was making his first state meet appearance. “I was real nervous during my first few throws and it showed. I didn’t start feeling good until the finals.”
Liberty-Benton junior Ryan Cook got the Eagles on the scoreboard by finishing seventh in the long jump with a leap of 20-8½. He is the 50th state place winner for the boys track program at L-B.
“I didn’t jump as far as I wanted,” Cook said. “But honestly, I didn’t expect to be here, so I’ll take it.”
Other Area Boys Finishes
SHOT -- 10, Bo Zeigler (Blu) 49-10. HJ -- 16, Tom Hochstetler (P-G) NH. LJ -- 9, Sam Spallinger (P-G) 20-6¼. PV -- 9, Jeremy Simon (VB) 13-0.
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