NEWTON – According to dyestat.com, Vandalia’s Curtis Gordon is the No. 2 freshman pole vaulter in the United States.
When it comes to state qualifiers in Illinois, he is a foot better than any other freshman, and his sectional height of 14 feet, 6 inches puts him fourth among Class A participants in Thursday’s Illinois High School Association state preliminaries.
Dyestat.com, which compiles the best high school marks throughout the country, has Gordon second in the nation only to Riley Richards of China Spring, Texas, who has cleared 15 feet on several occasions this spring.
Gordon, a two-time state champion in junior high, will be looking for his first high school state medal this weekend at O’Brien Stadium on the campus of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.
Vaulting 14-6 has been good enough for at least fifth place in each of the past five state meets, and Gordon hopes he will clear that and, hopefully, set a new personal record.
“My goal is always to PR,” Gordon said. “I figure if I PR, the places will fall where they fall.
“I can’t be mad if I PR,” he said. “Fifteen feet has been my goal all year – I want to jump my age.”
Gordon was second at the sectional. Casey-Westfield junior Riley Smith was the sectional champion at 15 feet, 6 inches.
Preliminary pole vault flights begin at 11 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. on Thursday, and the state finals are on Saturday at 10 a.m.
Carlinville senior Jack Denby is the top seed at 16 feet. Besides Smith, only Oregon senior Austin Rutherford (14-7) has a better height than Gordon.
Gordon appeared to be set to make state in two events, but he false-started in the finals of the 110-meter hurdles.
“The running back and forth between the hurdles and pole vault – I didn’t really love that,” Gordon said. “I just came out early. My blocks didn’t move, so there was nothing I could really do.”
Coach Jim Dierkes said the false start was disappointing, but it also gives Gordon the chance to put all of his attention on his main event.
“He doesn’t want to hear this, but I almost wonder if scratching out of the hurdles is a good thing for his first high school year,” Dierkes said. “He knows what it takes, but it’s a little bigger of a stage and he can focus solely on his main event.”
Also qualifying for Vandalia from last Friday’s Newton Sectional was sophomore Ethan Meyer, who leaped 40 feet, 6½ inches in the triple jump.
The distance wasn’t necessarily unexpected, but finishing in the top two to qualify for state is not what Meyer was expecting for this year.
“As a sophomore, I really didn’t,” he said. “I expected to compete with everyone there, but I didn’t really expect to be top two, because I just learned what triple jump is this year.”
Meyer has shown steady improvement in the event throughout the season, opening the year with 35 feet, 11 inches at Hillsboro on April 2.
Dierkes said Meyer’s intense work ethic has allowed him to see so much improvement.
“He’s worked and takes it seriously,” Dierkes said. “He knows what it takes to get the job done, and what it takes to get better.
“He’s studies the event, and researches the correct steps outside of practice,” he said. “He takes constructive criticism from other coaches, and that work ethic has gotten him where he is now.”
Meyer is ranked 30th among qualifiers and said he hopes to set another personal record at state by beating the school record of 41 feet, 4 inches.
Triple jump won’t be contested at the state preliminaries until all flights of the long jump are completed. Long jump begins at 10 a.m.
Also placing for the Vandals at the sectional were junior Ben Strobel, who took third in the 3,200-meter run (10:46.23), and senior Colton Woolsey, who finished fifth in the shot put (40 feet, 11 inches).
“I thought we did pretty well,” Dierkes said. “Some guys who didn’t make it have made some improvement all year.”