Heights’ Justice finishes near top, places third in pole vault

COLUMBUS — Bryan Justice took a relaxed approach into the Division I state meet.

The Licking Heights senior battled some sickness in the week leading up to the pole vault, and he was trying to avoid putting too much pressure on himself in regards to attempting to match the indoor state title he won in March. Still, when Justice faced potentially the final vault of his high school career, the adrenaline was pumping.

“Wow, that third jump felt good,” Justice said. “I just told myself, ‘Hey, if it’s the last jump you ever take, give it your all,’”

Justice cleared an outdoor-best 15-feet-2 on his third attempt this past Saturday at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium to move into third place. Justice moved up on the podium from a tie for sixth in 2013.

Justice was not feeling in top form, but he persevered. It took him until his third attempt to 14-10 to clear as well. He had a good run at 15-6 his second attempt, but he just missed. He could not get up to the bar on his third.

“I kind of tripped on my last jump, but I still jumped,” Justice said. “It just a trip, and even then I would have had to go one better and one better after that. Someone that wins like that deserves to win.”

Justice often has talked about unexpected way he found pole vault. He said he tried most every sport he could growing up, and pole vault became his niche early in his high school career.

Justice worked tirelessly the past two seasons, frequently traveling to a facility in Lewis Center for extra practice. He made an incredible jump to the state’s elite during his junior year, and he maintained that level of ability this season.

On Saturday, he was joined by two of his closest friends in the sport. Lancaster’s Andrew Koksal, who was encouraging and offering advice to Justice just minutes after seeing his state meet end, placed fifth, and Granville’s Byron Spruill finished seventh.

“It is nice to be just surrounded by friends,” Justice said. “Byron had such great jumps in him, and he is going to continue to work hard. Unfortunately, it might be the end of the road for me, but I am excited to see what they do in college.”

As for the state title, it was not to be on Saturday.

Justice edged out Massillon Perry’s Lucas Kelley to win the indoor title, but nobody was beating the sophomore sensation this time. Kelley cleared 15-10 to take the title. Troy senior Nathan Fleischer was the only other competitor to clear 15-2.

“I don’t mind losing to someone that’s better than me,” Justice said. “It takes a person to admit when someone is better than you. (Kelley) is one heck of a jumper, and I told you it needed to be won around 16-0. You know what? Fifteen-10 is about as close as it gets.”



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