Mitch Valli cleared 15 feet, 9 inches at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics meet on June 16 at Eagan High School, topping the previous best vault by a high school athlete by one inch.
Mitch Valli said he felt dead-tired. The senior-to-be had just started weight-training for football this fall at Buffalo High School. Plus the weather on June 16 started with rain, then heat, then more rain. As a result, the pole vault event at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics meet was running hours behind.
Hardly the ingredients you’d expect for what Valli ended up doing.
But there he was, pole in hand, charging down the runway at Eagan High School, accompanied by a dramatic accelerated clap from fans and onlookers as the bar in front of him and high overhead rested at 15 feet, 9 inches. No one in high school had ever cleared that height.
Valli planted his pole and propelled himself up and over the bar, landing in celebration with another mission accomplished.
“I was really focused, I knew what I had to do,’’ Valli said Friday.
His vault, on the first try, topped the state record mark of 15 feet, 8 inches set by Macauley Spandl of Moorhead in 2010. Spandl's vault remains the state record according to the Minnesota State High School League because the Junior Olympic meet is not under its jurisdiction.
Valli's vault clinched a personal goal he set for himself of improving his vault by two feet since his sophomore season, when he cleared 13-6. He made the same 2-foot jump a year earlier, improving from 11-6 as ninth-grader, his first season of competition, according to his step-father and coach, Paul Herda.
Valli, competing for Zero Gravity vaulting club, credited a fun, relaxed atmosphere for his performance last weekend. He and two champions from last month’s state meet — Lee Bares of Lakeville South and Grant Krieger of Blake — had already qualified for the regional meet next month in Oshkosh, Wis. After Valli and Bares cleared 15-4, breaking a 30-year-old meet record, they decided to set the bar at an inch above the state mark.
“We usually take it so seriously,’’ Valli said. “It was fun to be there.’’
Those performances had meet-watchers wondering the possibilities: The previous meet record-holder, Matt Kolb, went on to become the only Minnesotan to clear 18 feet. Valli, Bares and Krieger all have another year of high school competition remaining.
Valli’s previous best was 15-4, which he first cleared in sections earlier this year. Bares won Class 2A with a mark of 15-6. Valli tied for fourth at 14 feet. Krieger cleared 15 feet to win Class 1A.
Valli’s vault was vindication for a rigorous jump in off-season training. He stopped playing basketball in the winter to focus on pole vaulting. Through his mother’s company in Buffalo, his family set up a pole vault pit in a warehouse that allowed him to work out twice a week. He also lifted weights.
There were mild concerns that crossbeams in the warehouse might be an issue. “We figured if the crossbeams at 19 feet get in the way, then we can call ourselves successful,’’ said Herda, a former pole vaulter and coach at the high school and college levels.
Valli said his goals now include breaking the Buffalo High School mark of 15-6½ during next year’s track season. He’d also like to be the state’s first high-school athlete to clear 16 feet. He knows that his fellow pole vaulters will be working hard to keep up.
“My mom said ‘You can't stop now, they’re going to catch up,’’’ Valli said.