JEFFERSON -- Gainesville’s Hunter Mallard wanted to throw discus.
A good thing for the tall, lanky sophomore that coach Nick Nieselowski ("coach Ski" to his athletes) had something else a little different in mind.
“I wanted to throw (discus) but coach Ski said he thought I would do better at the pole vault. I saw some guys going upside down and stuff and thought I would give it a try,” Mallard said.
It has turned out to be a match made in heaven.
Mallard lifted himself to a personal-best 15-feet to win the Class AAAAA pole vault at the Georgia Olympics Thursday at Jefferson Memorial Stadium.
The jump beat his old mark of 14-6 and was good enough to take all-classification in the event until North Oconee’s Don Terry jumped 15-feet, 1/2-inch to win the Class AAAA pole vault. Mill Creek’s Jacob Zambo was the next closest competitor at the Georgia Olympics jumping 14-7 to win the Class AAAAAA event.
Mallard is hoping to follow in the big pole vaulting steps of former Red Elephant vaulter Paul Malquist, who won back-to-back vaulting titles in 2009-10 along with a pair of all-classification trophies.
“My goal was to hit 15-feet and win state. When I hit 15 I just tried to jump higher,” Mallard said. “It’s just a great feeling. It was an awesome day.”
Mallard went for 15-6 and nearly cleared it on his final attempt clipping the bar with his heel on the way down to just knock it off its perch.
“I felt I had it on that one,” he said. “I don’t look at the bar until I’m upside down. I went to the college pole which I don’t have much experience with. I think I would have gotten it with the high school pole.”
He had some early competition and fellow Region 8-AAAAA foe Peter Bennett of Winder-Barrow set the early mark at 12-6. Michael Runyan of Starr’s Mill and Jake Anderson of Effingham County then upped the challenge with leaps of 13-even and then 13-6.
Mallard entered at 13-even and then quickly pushed the bar higher.
“There was a lot more competition than I expected (based on jumps during the year),” Mallard said. “But that helped me focus.”
Anderson finished second at 13-6 and Runyan could not get past 13 to take third. Bennett, thought to be Mallard’s stiffest competition coming into the meet, was fourth at 12-6.
Mallard admits he’s come a long way in just under two years in the sport. He has gone from a very modest five-feet to now 15-feet. But it didn’t come quickly.
“I was scared out of my mind the first time I did it,” he said. “I wasn’t sure at first but after a couple more jumps it was fun. I’ve just been working hard and trying to get better. I feel I can get a lot better if I keep working.”
Despite being just one of two participants for Gainesville during Thursday’s field events, Mallard’s victory put the Red Elephants in second place in AAAAA at the time with 10 points.
Not long after Mallard finished winning the AAAAA event, the Class AAAA pole vault got under way and Johnson senior Juan Soto, who came in seeded ninth, was looking to make a name for himself in his final high school event.
He did just that shocking the field with a personal best jump of 13-6 to finish second behind Terry. Late in the event he held the lead as the first to hit 13-6. He missed three times at 14-0 but edged out Collin Satterfield of Pickens for second by virtue of fewer scratches.
“My expectations were to come in and show people I was better than (the 12-0) I came in as my jump in Sectionals,” Soto said. “I wanted at least 13-6 and I got that. It feels good to go out this way.”
Host Jefferson got its first gold of the meet when sophomore Donte Wilson held off the field and teammate Michael Goza to win the Class AAA discus.
Wilson set the mark for the field on his first attempt in the preliminaries with a monstrous and new personal-best heave of 150-06 and it would stand up all the way through the finals. Goza took second with a throw of 138-06 on his first attempt in the finals.
“Our goal was to go 1-2 and get 18 points for the team. We didn’t care in which order,” said Wilson, who beat his old mark mark by more than nine feet. “But it’s unbelievable I won this. I’ve never thrown it that far ever. It feels awesome to be able to do this as a sophomore. Hopefully I can keep getting better.”
At that point in the standings, the Dragons were in second in Class AAA one-half point behind Central-Carroll, 29 to 28.5 points.
In other action Thursday, Rabun County’s Tucker Williams had a solid day in the Class AA discus. He was the 14th highest qualifier but reeled off a 128-10 throw to finish sixth and secure three points for the Wildcats.
Also In Class AA, Riverside Military Academy’s Chris Howard took second in the Class AA shot put with a heave of 50-03. Bryan Kato of Thomasville won the event with a 52-10 3/4 throw. Howard also finished seventh in the triple jump with a leap of 43-11 1/2 on his first jump of the day.
His effort helped the Eagles to a fifth place showing with 13 points in Class AA at that point.
Also for the Eagles, JeJuan McCalston finished sixth in the long jump with a leap of 21-5. He had the 10th best qualifying jump coming into the meet. Quarvell Harris of Swainsboro took first with a jump of 23-01 3/4.
In action involving other northeast Georgia area competitors, in the Class AAA high jump, Luke Wells of Jefferson finished tied for eighth with a jump of 6-feet.
Gainesville’s Jamel Dabney came into the Class AAAAA shot put as the top performer with a pre-meet throw of 53-4 but failed to make it out of the preliminaries. Winder-Barrow’s Eathan Womack came in with the No. 2 throw but finished fifth with a throw of 52-5 1/2.
In the Class AAAA discus, Buford’s Caleb Auer came in as the No. 2 seed but failed to make the finals after scratching on his final two throws to finish 14th. North Hall’s David Schofield also did not qualify for the finals and finished 10th.
In the Class AAA shot put, Dayton Watkins of East Jackson was sixth with throw of 48-feet. Tyler Blalock of Cedartown won the event with a 51-03 1/4 toss.
In Class A Public, Commerce’s Adrain Vaquera finished fifth in the shot put with a throw of 45-1 1/2.
In the Class AAA long jump, Will Ledford of Banks County finished eighth with a jump of 20-11. Dodge County’s Cameron Young took first with a jump of 20-11 1/2.
In the Class AAAA long jump, Maurice Sutton of White County jumped 22-feet to finish sixth. Redan’s Chris McBride won the event with a leap of 23-11.
In the 1600-meter run, in Class A Public, Jose Rodriguez of Commerce posted a time of 5:07.35 to finish fourth.
In Class AAA, Chase Kennedy of East Jackson was an overwhelming favorite but was nipped down the stretch by Decatur’s Sam Ellis. Chase Kennedy finished in 4:21.36 while Ellis finished 4:21.03. Chandler Kennedy took third in a time of 4:23.15. Dawson County’s Jacob Poston was eighth.
In the Class AAAA race, Quintin Miles of North Hall finished in 4:22.55 to take third. Frank Pittman of Marist won the race in a time of 4:16.38.
Flowery Branch runners had a strong showing in the Class AAAAA race. Grant O'Callaghan finished third in 4:18.94 while teammate Jake Shewbert was fifth in a time 4:21.93. Kell’s Logan Poteet won the race in a meet best 4:12.01.