NORTH CALDWELL — Sometimes, the only way to go is up.
And that phrase remains true for West Essex Regional High School pole-vaulting phenom Dean McDonald, despite the fact that the 11th-grader suffered his first real setback ever at the New Balance National Outdoor Track Championships, an event which was held this past weekend, June 14-16, at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro.
After setting -and then re-setting- the school record, first at 14-feet and, subsequently, at 14-and-one-half feet, in the NJSIAA Group 2 championships and then the State Meet of Champions on June 1 and 5, McDonald was unable to clear the opening height of 14-2 at the national championships.
While that may have been disappointing for many athletes, considering the fact that McDonald has only been a vaulter for about 14 months, things are still looking very positive for the novice competitor.
“It’s very difficult for someone like Dean to have to face an opening height of over 14 feet,” said West Essex head boys track coach Tony Emering of the daunting situation that McDonald faced.
“At the last couple of state meets, the opening height was much lower and he could get some momentum going. At the nationals, though, it was much, much more difficult for him; trying to clear 14 feet cold is very, very difficult.
“He had a couple of good attempts, but just came up a bit short.
“However, that should not take any thing away from the amazing things that Dean has accomplished this year,” Emering said.
“Think about the fact that we only put a pole in his hands at the start of the 2012 season, mostly because his older sister holds both the girls school record and the Monmouth University women’s record and we hoped that, maybe, we would catch genetic lightning in a bottle; and look at where he is now.
“He won the county title and then the State Group championship and then finished seventh in the entire state during a time in which performances in New Jersey just keep getting better and better.
“For instance, less than a decade ago, at the SMOC in 2004, there was just one kid who cleared 14 feet and one who cleared 13-6.
“This year, there were five who cleared 14 and five who cleared 13-6, which is a huge, huge difference.”
“Overall, though, this was just an amazing season for Dean and, after this phenomenal spring, a season in which he really just caught fire, I think he has an unlimited upside.”
“Even though I couldn’t clear the opening height, going to the nationals was a great experience for me and I really think this will help me immensely in the future,” said McDonald. “It was great that I qualified for the national championships and I’m very much looking forward to next year and, hopefully, repeating as county and state-group champion and, maybe, even doing much, much better.”