At this year's state track and field championships, Jack Haller found himself in a sickeningly familiar place. He was trying to clear the opening height in the pole vault, and he'd already missed, twice.
"'Crap, this is going to be just like last year,'" Haller remembers thinking. "And that was scary, because last year was the worst thing ever."
At every practice this past season, West Forsyth track coach Kerry Farr would ask Haller a question he already knew the answer to. Haller was one of the most talented pole vaulters in the state, but how many state championships did he have?
The answer, for the time being, was zero.
Farr and Haller both knew the importance of staying focused, as failing to do so would lead to a repeat of 2016, when Haller fell behind Wolverines senior Koby Cormier as the year went on and wound up not clearing a height at the state championship meet.
If Farr asks Haller the same question next year, the answer will be different. Haller found the focus and fire that he didn't have last year, and it led to a Class 7A state championship for the rising senior.
But that title came with more dramatics than Haller had hoped for. He cleared that opening height of 13 feet, 6 inches, and the next one, and the one after that, but every clearance was on the third and final try at each height. The weather was fine, and Haller felt good physically. He thinks now that nerves may have played a part, but he isn’t sure.
“I don’t really know how to explain it,” Haller said. “Me and coach (Farr) were really confused by why that kept happening.”
Meanwhile, Brian Hauch of Parkview, Haller’s closest competitor, was clearing every height on the first try. Both vaulters reached 15-6, and Haller knew that even if nobody cleared the height, Hauch would have the championship because he had fewer misses.
Haller, naturally, cleared it on his third attempt. Hauch couldn’t make it over. Haller had set a new personal best and broken his own school record, but those milestones didn’t register until later – he was just focused on getting the championship.
Haller has one more year with the Wolverines. His sophomore season showed him what not to do, but his junior year gave him an example to follow. Haller now has to deal with higher expectations, like that of defending a state title, but he already has a plan.
“I’m just going to try to do the same thing as last year,” Haller said. “Don’t really worry about the marks. Stay focused on progressing throughout the season. That’ll be my main focus.”