HIGH SCHOOL TRACK AND FIELD: NC's Yahner nets state gold medal
SHIPPENSBURG — Gus Yahner wasn’t at his best, but it didn’t matter.
He’s the best in the state.
On a day when he wasn’t at the top of his game, the Northern Cambria senior still managed to finish atop the podium and win the Class AA pole vault title at the PIAA Track and Field Championships on Saturday, giving Northern Cambria its first-ever state title in a boys’ event.
In his estimation, Yahner only had one good jump on the day, but it was good enough.
“The gold medal is obviously great,” he said. “It’s what I’ve wanted since forever. But I was really looking at that 15-11 (state) record coming in. I was hoping to get a shot at it. Usually, when I have competition, I jump better. But I guess not today.”
The top seed in the Class AA field entering the meet, Yahner was one of two competitors to clear 15 feet.
He missed once at 14-0, his opening height, and he missed twice at the next height, 14-6.
With his season, and the gold medal, on the line, he composed himself to clear his final attempt at 14-6. But just barely.
As he was going over the bar, Yahner nicked it with his leg first, then his upper body. The bar bent and shook momentarily on the standards but stayed on, keeping Yahner alive.
“I think I was probably more nervous than he was. My heart was just beating out my chest,” said Hayley Paronish, a former Northern Cambria pole vaulter and a volunteer coach who helps in the event. “His steps weren’t right. I don’t think he was feeling exactly on. But his last attempt, he just came at it full force. He was gunning for it.”
Yahner then cleared 15-0 on his first attempt as he seemed to find his groove after a slow start.
But things quickly turned again. Yahner missed all three attempts at 15-6 and won the title by virtue of having fewer misses than the second-place finisher, Springfield’s Chris Stone.
“After I cleared 15, I felt really good,” Yahner said, “but then I couldn’t get a good jump after that. It was just an off day I guess, but it was good enough. I had one very good jump, and that was at 15. That was about all, actually.”
“It’s exciting for him, that’s for sure,” Northern Cambria coach Fred Montanaro said. “He gave me a little bit of a heart attack when he was starting there. He had a little slow going, but he did a great job and he pulled through. It’s a big stage to play on, that’s for sure.”
Yahner’s struggles left him wishing he could have done better, explaining his muted celebration.
“It’s not my best jump,” he said. “I was really looking to come in here and clear 16. … You just always wish you could do a little better. But I’m very, very happy with myself.”
Yahner’s title is the first for Northern Cambria since Janae Dunchack won four straight Class AA girls’ high jump titles from 2007-10.
A two-time state medalist, Yahner doesn’t plan on competing in college. He will attend the University of Pittsburgh and plans to major in pre-med, and he figures his studies will consume too much of his time to compete in track, too. With that in mind, Yahner wanted to make the best of his last career meet.
“I was always thinking to myself, since I’m not pole vaulting in college, I better make my last meet my best one,” Yahner said.
So, did you?
“Well, I won, so good enough,” he said with a smile.
“That’s a great way to stop,” Montanaro said. “Hopefully the folks at Pitt maybe will offer him something, and he’ll consider jumping a little bit more. Maybe not, but if you’re going to go out, I guess that’s the way to go out, especially at 15 feet. That’s still a huge jump.”
Although he knew he had the potential to clear 15 feet, Yahner never did it in competition until May 6, when he won the Heritage Conference title with a jump of 15-0?. A week later, he jumped 15-3 to win the District 6 title, and he exceeded the 15-foot mark for the third straight meet at states to cap his career in style.
“He definitely peaked at the right time, that’s for sure,” Montanaro said.