PIAA Feature: Stepping up in crunch time brings PIAA gold!

For Ravaughn Dillard and Ryan Wilkes, there was time to change silver into gold. On both accounts, the field event performers worked their way through a very small opening to finish atop the podium Friday at Seth Grove Stadium.

In the AAA pole vault, Wilkes was a strong favorite to defend his title, having hit a state-leading 16 feet, 6 inches earlier this month. Friday's windy conditions proved to be a great equalizer on the field as going high would be a difficult undertaking.

“If it doesn't mess you up in your mind, then you are pretty good off,” the Valley View senior said. “Just jumping, it's going to be completely different. Everything is going to be off, but keep your head cool, gotta keep calm, gotta keep from freaking out.”

Several of the top vaulters had early exits from the competition, but North Allegheny's Bobby Upton and Wilkes were clean and tied for first through 14-6.

“I felt ready good,” the North Allegheny senior said of his solid vaulting work. “With the wind, it was just all about being patient really, patient and calm. As long as that kept up and I kept clearing heights, that was good.”

Upton said wind-related adjustments helped him stay at the front and in position to score an upset over the defending champion and state leader.

“We played it safe,” Upton said. “We went to a shorter run to deal with the wind, and I know on that shorter run that I could have gone clean all the way to whatever height I would get out at.”

As the bar went to 15-0, Upton kept up the pressure and the clean vaulting, clearing on his first attempt as Wilkes and Hempfield Area sophomore Hayden Fox both needed a pair of jumps as the field was trimmed to the final trio.

Upton and Fox were the first to exit the competition, and the deciding vault was in the hands of last year's champion at the same height as proved victorious for him in 2014. Flashing down the runway, the blue-and-gold clad Cougar vaulter climbed smoothly toward the sky and slipped over the bar for the victory.

“I tapped it with my chest,” Wilkes said of his final, gold-winning jump at 15-6. “And usually it's 'Why can't the bar stay up for me, when it's wobbling real big for everyone else?' You're allowed one time at least.“

With the bar firmly on the pegs, the second consecutive state title was in the books for Wilkes.

“It was definitely crazy relief, too,” the winner said of the brief emotional moment on the mats when he realized he was state champ again.

“It's hard to set records. I was going for a state record today. Who knows what they were jumping in. It could have been 90-degree weather, nice and sunny.”

The runner-up from NA gave it his best shot, acknowledging the winning effort by Pennsylvania's top vaulter in the end.

“We went at it,” Upton stated. “Last attempt was I gave it my best, let's see what Ryan does. I knew he can clear 15-6 any day of the week, but after his first two attempts, I wasn't sure.

“I was sitting there with some friends, heart pounding. But once he got over, it was like he could clear that. He was the better jumper. It was bittersweet, but it was still nice getting second place, that's for sure.”

The AAA triple jump for boys also featured movement in the ranks as last year's state champion and a sophomore who was 21st in 2014 were at the top of the list.

“Last year I was just jumping,” Gettysburg's Dillard said of a look back at the freshman version of himself. “I didn't have any form because I was new. This year I have gotten help from a few people on my form. I have gotten a lot stronger since last year.

“Everything is starting to click because I actually get what triple jump is now. Last year it was just my natural ability to get that far.”

With state leader and fellow sophomore Deshawn Millington of Carlisle in first at 47-7.5, Dillard knew how far he needed to cover with his hop, skip and jump. His final attempt covered what he needed and a little bit more as the 47-11 effort would be the winning jump of the day.

“I was just going for it all because I wanted to win really bad, and I was in second and I didn't want to go home in second place,” Dillard stated. “Last year I kind of felt like I was the underdog. I was here, but I wasn't like with the top guys getting medals. This year I knew I had to represent my school and a bunch of people.”