Every time they get together for a big meet, the bar rises, the stakes get bigger and Nick Hysong’s 23-year-old record looks in jeopardy.
Phoenix Desert Vista’s Scott Marshall, Phoenix Brophy Prep’s Cole Walsh and Phoenix Horizon’s Grant Sisserson, all seniors, are in hot pursuit of the state pole vault mark of 17 feet, 43/4 inches that Hysong set in 1990 when he was finishing up at Tolleson.
Only Garrett Starkey, a Stanford freshman, had jumped 17 feet in Arizona since then. He did it last year at the Chandler City Meet for Basha.
This season, however, Marshall cleared 17 feet in order to beat Sisserson (who had gone 16-8) for the Chandler Rotary Invitational title.
Last week, at the Arcadia Invitational in California, a day after becoming violently ill with food poisoning, Walsh jumped a personal-record 16-83/4, beating out Marshall for the title.
It came during the same weekend that Glendale Deer Valley’s Bo Haddock joined the exclusive 16-foot club at the Greenway Invitational.
Jeff Guy, the pole vaulting coach at Desert Vista, who has produced 25 boys and girls state high school champions during his career, has never seen a year like this.
This is the first time in his memory that four vaulters have cleared 16 feet, let alone three, during the same year.
“I see three over 16-6, and that’s huge,” Guy said before Walsh’s big vault last week.
Marshall (fourth), Walsh (seventh) and Sisserson (eighth) are among the nation’s top seven high school vaults this year. The No. 1 vault of the year is 17-81/2 by Daven Murphree in Texas.
There are seven vaulters in Arizona this season with jumps more than 15 feet.
In past years, a vaulter could win state clearing less than 15 feet.
On the girls side, five this year have gone at least 12 feet with Tempe Marcos de Niza senior Savannah Whitehead leading at 12-7, followed by Desert Vista sophomore Vanessa Davis (12-61/2).
Guy says he gets about 40 vaulters a year out at Desert Vista. Some schools feel forunate to have that many athletes come out for track.
The last time Arizona saw such a great wave of vaulters come through was the late 1980s, when Tolleson, coached by Cranston Hysong, had the White twins, Lance and Lane, their older brother Mike, and up-and-coming Nick Hysong. Phoenix North had Muhammad Oliver and Todd Lehman.
“Those were the guys I grew up watching, and they were all jumping at a very high level,” said Hysong, who works as a personal coach with Walsh and Sisserson among his pupils who train behind Hysong’s north Phoenix house. “They were a great example for me, and I got pulled along by them. Through the hunger they pushed into me, I was able to exceed them a little bit. I think we have a crew now that has that same hunger, and they’re going to that next level.”
Pole vaulting may be the most extreme sport in track and field. There is a fraternity among jumpers, who are willing to launch their bodies high into the air on a pole to try to one-up each other. They measure themselves against the bar, but there is a game of one-upmanship among the competitor as they wait their turn.
“You’re always going for that next bar,” said Hysong, who grew up trying dare-devil tricks on his skateboard.
At the Chandler meet, Sisserson figured he had the championship in hand after he cleared a personal-best 16-8. Mashall then cleared 16-8, and amped it up a notch, winning it at 17 feet on his second try. He did it in a cross wind.
“I didn’t think I’d get it that day,” Marshall said. “I just gave it my all after he did what he did.”
In the second meet of the season, Walsh cleared 16-6.
Walsh was up all night the day before the Arcadia meet, throwing up. He couldn’t keep anything down. He slept very little. Then, he had the night of his life, clearing 16-83/4 after he was deadlocked with Marshall at 16-43/4.
“I decided just to suck it up and jump,” said Walsh, who has signed with Oregon.
“During my warm-ups, I was feeling pretty bad. But after I started jumping, I felt fine.”
Sisserson said his first vaulting coach was his dad, who did the event in high school and college. Horizon vaulting coach Bill Rogers and Hysong has helped him take it to new levels.
And guys like Walsh and Marshall bring out the best at meets.
“You work the technique and get good enough, and it’s fun and you just keep progressing,” he said.
As for Hysong’s record, Walsh said, “I think all three of us have a chance to get it.”