SOMERSET – The men’s state champions meet was established in 1969 and girls were added to the competition five years later.
It wasn’t until 2013 that Demarest’s Eric Geider became the first North Jersey boy to win a pole vault title, four years after Clifton’s Emily Urciuoli became the first North Jersey champion at girls. Victories for Jason Mezhibovsky of Demarest and Tyler Hrbek of Old Tappan for the boys and Kayla Polcari of Ridgewood for the girls followed. But until Saturday, North Jersey had never won both titles in the same year.
That was before Pascack Hills senior Max Zuckerman and Pompton Lakes junior Emma Keating scored dramatic wins from behind at Franklin High School on Saturday to clinch titles.
Zuckerman makes history
It wasn’t supposed to be day.
Saturday was a cool and windy day, unusual for June and very unfortunate for pole vaulters.
“It was the worst wind I’ve ever jumped in,” Zuckerman said. “I really didn’t think today would be the day.”
The day he won his first State Meet of Champions title on what could have been the last jump of his high school career.
The day he became the first Bergen County High School outfielder in history to clear 16 feet and only the 14th in state history.
The day he had what he called his best day.
Even before his victory on Saturday, Zuckerman had proven himself as the most consistent outfielder in North Jersey history. Since clearing 15 feet for the first time as a sophomore in the winter of 2020, he had cleared 15 feet or better 21 times, three more than his former teammate, Liam Landau, the former record holder.
He had cleared a height over 15ft 11 times, including a personal best of 15-8 last spring, but had never cleared the 16ft barrier or won a SMOC title, despite having had four crowns indoor and outdoor groups.
But after clearing his first three heights of 14ft, 14-6 and 15ft (for the 22nd time), all on his second attempt, he was still sitting second behind Hillsborough’s Kevin O’Sullivan as he watched the bar at 15-6 for a third and final try.
He was on the track for his last attempt, knowing that if he cleared the bar, the title was his.
“Today was the day I had worked for every day for the past three years at Hills,” Zuckerman said. “I’ve worked too hard for today NOT to be my best day.”
He stabilized, took a deep breath and began his seven-step approach, planted his post and when he passed the bar cleanly.
When he looked up and saw the bar in place, he and his team erupted in cheers from the crowd. He hugged his trainer, Ross Koehler, his friends on the track, his father Ken on the fence, shouting and everyone he could find.
The head official gave him a smile and a thumbs up. There was still work to be done, but somehow it got a whole lot easier.
“After winning, everything that followed was just a bonus,” Zuckerman said. There is no better feeling.”
Zuckerman followed with three solid efforts in a 16-5 competition record, then reflected on what he had done.
“Liam was teaching a group of new jumpers on a rainy April day in the spring of my freshman year,” Zuckerman recalled. “He dragged me to Koehler and said that would be the next good one.”
Koehler had Zuckerman plant the post and swing and Zuckerman knew he was hooked.
“Once people like Liam and Koehler believed in me,” he said. “All I wanted to do every day was jump.”
“If there was no Koehler, there is no me,” said Zuckerman, who also credited training with legendary trainer Tim St. Lawrence at the Hudson Valley Flying Circus in Warwick, NY. I don’t think I would have tried. I don’t think I would have liked it. No way I would have done that.”
“I guess it happens when you least expect it.”
Keating turns a ‘fun’ Friday into a championship Saturday
Like many athletes at this year’s State Meet of Champions, Keating spent much of the weekend shuttling between the meet at Franklin High School and Franklin Field in Philadelphia, when one of three level meets national was organized by New Balance.
But it’s doubtful anyone enjoyed the 90-minute journey between venues as much as Keating.
She followed her second-place finish in the Rising Stars Division at New Balance on Friday with a surprise win on Saturday, moving from fifth to first by clearing 12 feet on her first attempt shortly after Zuckerman won his title, giving North Jersey the pole. vault sweep.
On Saturday, she arrived at her normal opening height of 10 feet. The wind was so strong that officials lowered the opening height for the entire competition from 9-6 to 9 feet.
A few early misses brought her into fifth at the 12-foot bar, with Demarest’s Michelle Lee and Montclair’s Elizabeth Fitzgerald tied for the lead with a clean card.
It was then that Keating took over.
Jumping first in the rotation, Keating cleared an easy 12 feet to take the lead, then watched one by one as Ridgewood’s Talia Hutchinson, the state indoor champion, Lee, High Point’s Rachel Mason and Fitzgerald missed. 10 consecutive attempts before Fitzgerald wipes it out. last test.
But neither jumper could make it 12-6 and the gold was Keating’s, the first of any event for the school and the first women’s medal at SMOC since Meghan Gaffney finished sixth in the 1600 de 2003.
“I knew going 12 on my first attempt was key,” Keating said. “My dad (and Pompton Lakes jump coach Steve Keating) said the same thing I thought – focus on it like it was my last jump.”
Keating had competed in the Rising Stars competition in Philadelphia on Friday “just for fun”, and started his effort at 3.35 meters (10-11 3/4), nearly a foot taller than his opening height normal.
It was almost a short stay as Keating missed twice at the opening height before going through, then cleared 11-3 3/4 on his second attempt. She was then ninth and cleared the next two heights as one by one the other competitors missed three times and were eliminated.
“I wanted to do well, but I got to a higher height and went over heights to be fresher for the (Saturday) encounter,” Keating said. “I treated it like another practice because I knew I was coming here today.”
Finally tucking in at 3.65 yards (11-11 3/4), Keating made her second try, putting her in second place behind winner Tatum Norris of Susquehanna, PA.
“Jumping to higher heights really helped and treating it like fun was awesome,” said Keating, who started jumping last summer after her gymnastics career ended due to too much stress on her body. his body.
“The transition to pole vault was positive for competition and took the strain off his body like gymnastics was,” said Steve Keating, who won the Cardinals’ first-ever MOC medal in 1986 when he finished fourth in men’s vault. “I wanted my children to choose what they wanted to do and not what I wanted.”
“It surprised me how much she really enjoyed it.”
“I never thought I could win when I started last summer,” Emma said. “But you know, now I have to do it!”
Paul Schwartz covers high school athletics for NorthJersey.com. For full access to live scores, breaking news and analysis from our Varsity Aces team, subscribe today. To get the latest news straight to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter and download our app.
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