Long before Dillon McCarthy finished leaping, he was the only one left.
McCarthy was one of nearly 40 Mount Pleasant Track Club athletes competing at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympic National Championships last week in California.
The Wando freshman entered as national No. 1 seed in the boys pole vault 13-14 age division. With his closest competition stuck at 11 feet, 7 inches, McCarthy easily cleared the mark. By the time he was attempting 12-07, his challengers had bowed out and the national championship was already in hand.
“He was out there jumping against himself at the end. He’d already beaten everyone else,” MPTC coach Tami Dennis said. “We felt like this was his year. And it was one of the first events of the meet for us so for him to win it was just like ‘whew.’”
McCarthy is just the second MPTC athlete to ever win a national championship. Academic Magnet senior Liam Christensen won the program’s first championship two years ago in the 15-16 javelin event. Christensen reclaimed the nation’s top spot this year, winning the 17-18 javelin by more than three meters with University of North Carolina coaches watching him.
“To have two national champions in one year is just phenomenal,” Dennis said. “When you sit back and look at what these kids have done from a little old town in a little old state it’s so impressive. We had a huge showing this year.”
MPTC set a new program record with 14 athletes earning All-American recognition with finishes eighth place or better.
Wando freshman Chloe Berda and Bishop England sophomore Aiden Richter both nearly earned national titles with runner-up finishes in the 13-14 javelin and 15-16 2000-meter steeplechase, respectively. Wando junior Zeniyah Lawrence placed third in the 200-meter dash and fourth in the 100. Lawrence, a high school state champion in 100 and 200, was eight-hundredths of a second off of second place in the 200 and just over two tenths of a second from winning the 100.
“I think the Junior Olympics has been the best thing to happen to (Lawrence) because she’s seeing national competition,” Dennis said. “When she competes in her high school state meet, it’s been there done that. She’s already gone against the best in the nation.”
Ethan Coco placed fourth in the 13-14 javelin. Andrew Bronson (13-14 pole vault), Ginger Arnold (11-12 javelin) and Zane Jackson (13-14 3,000) each finished sixth in their respective events. Richter teamed up with Porter-Gaud’s Ben McElveen, and Luke Pauldine and Jack Carson from Wando to place seventh in the 13-14 800 relay.
MPTC’s 14 All-Americans are one more than the goal the team set before this season. Such high preseason national aspirations are a far cry from the program’s humble beginnings years ago.
“We used to be happy just to be there. Not anymore. We go to really compete now,” she said. “They’re committed to the individual goals and the team goals. They’ve bought into wanting to be a part of helping the team reach its goals and that’s unique in track.”
And the goal for next season?
“I try to keep adding a better goal each year. Something else to reach for,” Dennis said. “But with these kids, it just gets tougher and tougher.”