Zach Crouse’s success in the pole vault this winter was expected.
The Licking Valley senior, however, has been blown away by his success in the long jump.
“Last year was also a surprise, jumping (19-feet-5),” Crouse said. “This year I was expecting like 20-5. At the third (Ohio State) indoor meet we had, I jumped 21 out of nowhere. It was a big surprise.”
Crouse is among an impressive contingent of Valley athletes headed to the Division II/III indoor state meet Saturday, and it would be a surprise if the Panthers did not return with a few medals.
The meet is sponsored by the state’s coaches association and begins at 3:30 p.m. at the University of Akron. The Division I meet is at 9:30 a.m.
Crouse has plenty of company. He and classmate Quincy Robinson have a friendly rivalry going in the long jump, Neil Bailey — a third senior — is competing in the shot put and weight throw, and classmate Alex McHugh joins Bailey in the weight throw. Wyatt Fleisher, Drew McArtor, Phil Lehman, Tyler Kuhnes and John Righter are each on at least one relay.
“Sophomore year, we knew we were going to do good, but our time carried over from our heat to the next heat, and that placed us eighth in the (1,600 relay),” said Robinson, who also will compete in the high jump and the 800 and 1,600 relays.
“We were surprised about that. I am hoping we can do the same thing this year.”
Crouse’s ascension in the pole vault has continued. He cleared a personal-best 13-feet-6 in the Mid-State League-Ohio Division meet outdoors in spring 2012. He already has blown past that height this winter, clearing 14-6 twice, most recently in winning this past weekend’s Central District Indoor meet.
Coach Matt Sorg — who was a standout at Heath — created a makeshift pole vault pit in the auxiliary gym, and it allowed Crouse to continue to fine-tune his technique outside of the brutal windy, cold conditions of an Ohio winter.
“My goal by the of the season is to get the school record, which is 15-4. I am going for 15-5 or 15-6.” Crouse said. “I have seen other coaches, and I have talked with (teammate Jeffery Lowery) multiple times about how good of a coach we have.”
A hyperextended knee slowed Robinson during the indoor season, and his run outdoors came to an end at the regional meet. He jumped a strong 22-0.5 in his final meet of 2012, but it was less than three inches short of a state berth.
“Most of (the motivation) is from last year with my knee and not getting to go to state,” Robinson said. “I am happy I am starting this year where I ended last year, so I am hoping I am just going to get better. I have jumped 21 each indoor meet except for maybe the first one. I have been staying consistent with about the same distance each time.”
Jumpstarted by a 1-2 finish in the long jump from Crouse, who jumped a career-best 21-9.25, and Robinson in the CDI meet, the Panthers walked away with the title. The Panthers scored 107.25 points, edging runner-up Lakewood’s 99.75.
Robinson won the high jump, and he also helped Valley to the title in the 800 relay. The Panthers picked up seconds from Bailey in the weight throw and shot put, Griffin Butler in the 3,200 and the 1,600 relay.
“It really shows we can compete with the higher teams,” Crouse said. “We can get something accomplished. Winning the district meet shows what we are capable of. You get a taste of Division I, which is a higher skill level. When you come to Division II, you are prepared.”
Robinson is not concerned with Crouse stealing his thunder in the long jump. The pair hopes to share the podium Saturday.
“I knew he would be good at long jump just by his form,” Robinson said. “I just kept telling him he needed to work on getting more height. When he beat me in long jump, I really didn’t care. I was more worried about getting points for the team.”
Crouse also is aiming for new heights in the pole vault. It will not be a surprise.
“This past Saturday, I was extremely close to getting 15 feet,” Crouse said. “With just a little adjustment to my standards, I could have gotten it. That is my goal this week — 15-0 — and hopefully winning the state meet. I am in second behind a kid who is an inch and a quarter ahead of me.”