Brian Ullrich improved by leaps and bounds in the pole vault this year.
The St. John Neumann senior already was pretty good, with a personal best of 12 feet, 6 inches as a junior. Now, Ullrich’s personal best is two feet higher than that. And he’s a state champion, clearing 14 feet to win the Class 1A state title. That mark was bested by only three other vaulters in the four classes in their respective state meets.
“Everything kind of fell into place,” said Ullrich, who credits assistant field coach Steve Mazzula.”It’s fun to be right down in that corner to watch it,” Neumann coach Mike Olayos said. “Most of the team was there, and a lot of other kids from around Naples were there hanging out.”
Because pole vaulting is such a specialized sport, most of the competitors know each other pretty well.
“Going to every meet, it’s like a little family almost,” Ullrich said. “You know everyone, and you get to know them really well.”
Ullrich’s season just didn’t peak at the state meet. He was reaching those heights earlier in the season.
“He was so consistent at high heights,” Olayos said. “He really did not enter many meets all year long that he didn’t win. … It’s tough to hold that for the whole season, really.
“I think one of the keys was that he knew in practice he could start at a higher opening height than his competitors and not be as tired when you’re jumping at the real high heights.”
Ullrich will continue his pole vaulting career at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. He has family in that area, and his sister goes to school there.
Ullrich enjoyed coming up with a solid group of pole vaulters. He was second in the districts as a sophomore, and just became more comfortable with his feet straight up in the air going over a bar.
“I wouldn’t say I’m one of those way-out-there guys who are kind of a little crazy,” Ullrich said. “… I just got laid back with the pole vaulting. … I think since I started freshman year, it was a lot more helpful, and I’ve just kind of grown with that.”
“He’s really, this year, enjoying learning the sport,” Olayos said. “He’s a real student of it. I think he’s going to continue to grow as he gets more experience and is exposed to more stuff that can help him.”
By GREG HARDWIG