NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

June 6, 2014

FLYING HIGH

Coming off record-breaking performance, Triton's Stevens sets sights on All-States

By Tim Lima
Sports Reporter

---- — BYFIELD — Triton senior pole vaulter Austin Stevens set the bar higher than it’s ever been last week. He cleared 13-71/2 inches in the pole vault, capturing the Division II State Championship while also breaking a school record that has stood for 30 years.

“Obviously I am really happy for him to win it,” said Triton head track coach Joe Colbert. “He’s very passionate about pole vaulting and has worked really hard at it. It has been a goal of his for three years; and every time you see a kid set a goal and go reach it, it is a good feeling for a coach.”

Stevens has been one of the Cape Ann League’s best pole vaulters for a while now. This season he went undefeated in the event and earned CAL All-League honors after winning the event at the league championship meet.

Though he concentrates exclusively on track now, it wasn’t always his lone focus. In fact, it was an acquired taste, as the Viking enrolled in football in the fall of his first high school year before turning exclusively to the more individualized sports of track and cross-country.

Since he first started pole vaulting as a sophomore, breaking the school record has always been one of his top priorities.

“It has been my goal since I started pole vaulting,” Stevens said. “I have shot for that record ever since. I’m just really happy to break it; I worked hard all off-season to get it.”

While Stevens is not the first state champion pole vaulter in Triton’s recent history — as it was achieved twice since 2002 — Stevens can now safely stake his claim as the best. It was a matter of a half an inch, as the 13-foot-7 record has been securely instilled within the Vikings record book for decades.

“It’s an impressive record,” Colbert said. “He has progressively been getting better week after week, so it’s not unrealistic to think he may go higher (tomorrow) at All-States. While there’s a good chance of it, winning the state championship is such an emotional rush, so maintaining focus mentally would be a challenge. But at this point, nothing would surprise me with him.”

Stevens said he’s aiming for 14 feet tomorrow, a height he has never successfully cleared. As it stands now, clearing 14 feet would make him one of just three to do so in any division’s Massachusetts State Championship meet this year.

Stevens is seeded fifth for tomorrow’s meet and will test his record-setting performance last week against the best athletes that Massachusetts has to offer. Seeds are awarded in dependence with qualifying jump heights at the State Championship meet. While his seed may appear underwhelming, his potential to finish on top should not be overlooked.

While Stevens cleared 13-71/2, the state’s top seed belongs to Greenfield’s Vladimir Popusoi, who cleared 15 feet this season, which currently stands three inches shy of the All-State meet record set in 2012.

Though the desire to improve on an individual basis has been a major influence, Stevens’ team has reaped the benefits of his hard work as well. While he enjoys the benefits in the form of awards, titles and records, his team enjoys his contribution to its point total as well as its reputation. Though Triton finished the season with a less-than-stellar 2-6 record, Stevens has yet to lose at the pole vaulting event through nine meets.

“We pretty much knew going into every meet that we would win the pole vault,” Colbert said. “He didn’t lose all season long. It’s a nice feeling to have as a coach.

“We have been fortunate enough to have a good number of state champions over the past 13 or 14 years, and every time that happens, it reflects well on our program. It’s a success for our whole program when an individual wins the state title. It’s a great thing for the whole team.”

The Vikings have also benefited from the leadership Stevens brings. He said he prides himself on being the best captain he can be to help bolster a team to the next level while exhibiting a proper way to handle day-to-day focuses.

“I like to lead by example,” he said. “I just work hard in practice, do my best in meets and hope that everyone will follow.”

And while the record book has been a reach for Stevens since beginning the event in 2012, it has also provided a sense of enjoyment for the Triton senior. It’s simply fun. It is no surprise, then, that earning an opportunity to join the UMass Lowell track team is something he’s very excited for.

“It means another four years of having fun in pole vaulting,” he said. “They have a great engineering program, which is why I wanted to go there, but once I started jumping higher in practices and meets, I looked into the team and got on to it.”

Stevens will aim to qualify for New England’s and earn more fun pole vaulting at the high school level tomorrow at Bridgewater State University.