WEST POINT — When the pole vaulting competition reached its end Friday evening, two exhausted club teammates, Warwick’s Todd Uckermark and Ellenville’s Justin Farrenkopf, playfully wrestled one another in the pit.
The state’s top two scholastic vaulters put forth a tremendous warm-up performance for next Saturday’s state championships. Farrenkopf went over first at 14 feet, 6 inches, to seize the lead but Uckermark was first over the bar at 15 feet for the decisive tie-breaker. It was no matter since both vaulters qualified for states, joining Warwick’s Derek Dibona, the third-place finisher at 14 feet.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Farrenkopf, who earned a scholarship to attend Manhattan College. “I had a few bad meets but I got some focus and a good 15-foot jump so I am excited. It definitely was a great jump at 15-6, but you have to take what you got and just go back and fix it.”
Farrenkopf is top-ranked in the state at 15-7, having cleared that in a scholastic meet at the Flying Circus jumping barn in Warwick — that is only six inches shy of O’Neill graduate Robb Quiller’s sectional indoor mark of 16-1. Uckermark is ranked second this season at 15-4, having set the Warwick school indoor mark with his performance at the Hispanic Games Jan. 4 at the New York Armory.
Farrenkopf said Manhattan’s scholastic reputation and outstanding graduation rate for its athletes were prime reasons for accepting the scholarship. “Hopefully I will have a great career,” he said. Farrenkopf said it was the culmination of five years of hard work, having given up wrestling to pursue pole vault. “The rest is history,” he said.
Uckermark is happy to own the school indoor mark, but he knows his place in Warwick’s pecking order.
“I am still only the third-best pole vaulter Warwick has seen,” he said. Rich Beattie held the previous indoor mark and likely would have challenged Dave Holt’s 1978 outdoor mark of 15-7½ if he hadn’t broken his leg during his senior year.
“I will let you know when I become first best,” the junior Uckermark said with a smile. “That height, even today, is really good. It was set in 1978 and that’s just ridiculous. That’s been up (on the record board) for too long in a lot of our minds. It will be a challenge to get, it really is, but it’s good to have that to push yourselves.”
In what may be a perfect line of succession for the future, Dibona said he never expected to do this well as a sophomore and qualify for states. He said the intense competition within Section 9 has motivated him to do better.
“Everyone is jumping extremely high,” Dibona said, “so it makes you compete higher, just to jump with them. It makes you drive harder, train harder and work harder.”
Uckermark said it was nice “to have a shake-out” before the state meet. He said it doesn’t matter to him who wins next week as long as it’s someone from Section 9.
“Hopefully we can take gold and silver,” Farrenkopf said.