ARMAGH — If Gus Yahner wasn’t considered a legitimate contender for the state title in the pole vault before, he surely figures to be near the top of the list after the Heritage Conference Championships.
A state medalist last year as a junior, the Northern Cambria senior cleared the bar at 15 feet, 0½ inches on Tuesday to win the conference title, and more importantly, become just the second vaulter in the state to clear the coveted 15-foot mark this season.
“Amazing. Absolutely amazing,” Northern Cambria boys’ coach Fred Montenero said. “The kid’s got a great work ethic. He works hard, he trains hard. He is fantastic. That’s just a gigantic jump.”
“That felt real good,” Yahner said.
“I asked for 15-1 just because I know the kid that jumped 15 already in the state, so I just wanted to get bragging rights.”
Yahner was one of four event winners for the Colts, who managed to hold off Ligonier Valley down the stretch and win the team title with 124 points, finishing 10 points ahead of the defending champion Rams.
“I couldn’t be any happier,” Montenero said. “I’m so pleased, so tickled with my boys. Before the meet, we thought we could be contenders. Ligonier is always tough. Homer-Center is always tough. We asked the boys to come up big, especially our younger guys that rarely place in big events. We got a lot of seconds, thirds and fourths, and that coupled with things like Gus Yahner, Nolan Paronish and Desmend Phillips getting first, it put us over the top. I couldn’t be any happier.”
Paronish won the javelin, Phillips won the triple jump and Seth Bearer won the 400.
“It’s great, man,” Paronish said. “We were looking forward to this all year. We wanted this so badly. It’s just a great feeling. I don’t even know how to explain it.”
Although Paronish’s winning throw was more than 10 feet short of his personal-best, the Colts’ senior didn’t much care as he stroked the gold medal around his neck.
“A gold is a gold. It feels the same no matter what,” he said with a wide grin.
Winning a pair of events Tuesday were Penns Manor’s JT Horwat, who took the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs; Ligonier Valley’s Anthony Thomas, who won the 100 and 200 dashes, and Chris Huber, who was first in the 110 and 300 hurdles; and Homer-Center’s John Capitosti, who won his first conference titles in the high jump and long jump.
After a couple disappointing meets in which he failed to reach 6-0 in the high jump or 20-0 in the long jump, John Capitosti thinks he’s gotten back on track. He jumped 20-5½ to win the long jump and 6-2 to take the high jump title.
“This is when you want to be peaking,” John Capitosti said. “I feel like I’m coming along, especially long jump. Hitting 20 feet was big today. It gives me some confidence, maybe I can get up near 21 by districts. Also getting back to 6-2 because I had a couple bad meets prior to this one, so it’s definitely a big confidence builder today getting 6-2 going into districts.”
Also winning conference titles were Homer-Center’s Cody Miller in the discus and Mike Newhouse in the shot put; and Purchase Line’s Dan Learn in the 800.
Learn, Adam Farmery, Ryan Butz and Taylor Antisdel ran on Purchase Line’s winning 3,200 relay team.
Thomas, Josh Grundling, Mitchell Brown and Michael Keller ran on Ligonier Valley’s 400 relay team, which set a meet record with its winning time of 44.9.
Thomas’ win in the 100 was noteworthy for who was absent: Blairsville’s Deion Robinson. The Bobcats’ star sprinter was dismissed from the team last week, coach Marty Kessler said.
Thomas had hoped for a showdown with Robinson, but it didn’t materialize.
“I haven’t run against Deion this whole year,” Thomas said, “and this meet I was hoping to run against him, because he’s the fastest, the so-called fastest, and I just wanted to prove I could beat him. But I guess it’s one of those things we’ll never know about.”
John Capitosti, John Ireland, Ben Wolford and Joe Capitosti teamed up for Homer-Center’s winning 1,600 relay team.
For the second straight season, Northern Cambria went 8-1 during the regular season, suffering both its losses to Ligonier Valley.
The Colts added a pair of first-year track athletes to their team this season in seniors Dartagnan Suchar and Chris Barrett. Both scored critical points on Tuesday, and in Montenero’s estimation, those contributions are what finally propelled the Colts past Ligonier Valley.
“Oh, I’m positive that’s what pushed us over the top,” Montenero said. “Having a sprinter like Dartagnan and a boy like Chris Barrett come out throwing shot put and throwing 46 feet, it’s huge for us. It’s gigantic. Chris has gone up by feet at every meet. He hasn’t peaked yet. He’s still coming up.”
Although it’s probably unavoidable, tabbing Yahner as a favorite to win the state title is a bit premature, he said.
“The goal is definitely to win states, but I’ve got to get there first,” he said after his record jump. “Have to clear some heights.”
Yahner did plenty of that Tuesday.
The only competitor to jump higher than 12-0, Yahner also broke his own meet record of 14-6 he set last year.
Although he had never previously cleared the 15-foot mark, Yahner said he was confident he could reach it entering the meet.
“Actually, yeah. Yesterday in practice, I did get a couple good jumps with a bungee at 15-6, almost clearing it,” he said after his record jump. “I was hoping I could carry that over to today. Just getting that first jump out of the way is always one of the major things, getting the nerves out.”
A senior, Penns Manor’s Horwat was competing at the conference meet for the first time since his sophomore season after missing last year’s meet with an injury.
He roared back from third place on the final lap of the 1,600 and held off Marion Center’s Kyle Anderson and teammate Roman Tate by less than 3 seconds to win, then cruised to victory by 12 seconds in the 3,200.
“Today, in the mile, I was really nervous,” Horwat said. “There were four really solid runners that were all contending for first. I have to say, Roman really shocked me, I wasn’t expecting him to be up there that whole time. Especially in the mile today, it was more about the position than a time. I was hoping for medals at least.”