TAMPA — Deep breath. Raise the pole. Down the runway the Tigers go.
Ten to 12 times a day.
Almost every day.
On days they don’t shoot their bodies over a bar 12 to 15 feet in the air, they lift weights, or run, or flip and tumble and balance on a beam at a gymnastics gym.
“We’re always doing something to get better,” said Jesuit High senior Nick Catchur, the leader of the vaulting Tigers. “And we almost always work it together.”
And it’s working very well.
For proof, check out last week’s Class 2A-Region 3 track meet in which three Tigers — Catchur, Jack Hughes and Sammi Abboud — qualified for the state meet in the same year.
Jesuit will have three vaulters at Friday’s Class 2A meet at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, after taking three of the four available regional qualifying spots.
Catchur won the region meet with a leap of 14 feet, Hughes was third at 12-6 and Abboud was fourth at 12-0. A fourth Tiger, Dante Newberg, who has a personal best of 13-0, just missed making it a Tiger sweep. Newberg, who still qualified in the high jump and the 110 hurdles, placed fifth in the vault at 12-0 because he had more misses than Abboud.
“We love the vault because it’s an early event in a track meet and it can set the tone for the day,” said Jesuit track coach Andy Wood, who this year guided the Tigers to district and region team titles with hopes for a top-three finish at state. “No doubt we feel very blessed in the vault.”
For starters, the Tigers have the equipment, which is expensive (upwards of $600 for a pole and $15,000 for a landing pit).
Second, they have smart coaches who make state title contenders out of novices (Catchur, Hughes, Abboud and Newberg had never vaulted before their freshman or sophomore years).
And, lastly, they have Catchur, who “raised the bar” last year by winning the state title.
“Seeing Nick become a state champion (at 14-6) let us know that we all had a chance to do something special,” said Hughes, a junior who finished 13th last year at 12 feet but has cleared a personal-best 14-0 this season. “Nick is an inspiration.”
For Catchur, who set the school record this season at 15-6, the goal has been not only to repeat as state champion, but also repeat with a jump of more than 16 feet while the rest of the Tigers push him as hard as they can.
But hitting all of Catchur’s goals might prove difficult, because last Friday he suffered a torn ligament in his left big toe (on his planting foot) while playing an intramural soccer game. On Wednesday, doctors gave Catchur the go-ahead for Friday’s state meet.
“They said I should be OK if I wrap it up and monitor it,” Catchur said. “I was worried when I first saw it (breaking through the skin), but now I feel pretty optimistic. I feel good about it.”
Abboud and Hughes are thrilled.
“Having Nick with us gives us confidence,” said Abboud, a junior who admitted to being “terrified” when he tried his first vault last year as a sophomore. “He’s a leader and a coach. He makes us feel that we can keep going higher.”
But in the end, no matter what happens at state, Catchur, Hughes and Abboud said they will use it as a learning experience, a springboard to vault them into the future.
“The more you get into vaulting, the more interesting it gets,” said Hughes, who hopes a tweak in technique mixed with adrenaline will shoot him over 15 feet on Friday. “Vaulting requires so many things: speed, strength and technique. It also requires many reps.”
“It’s our passion,” Abboud said. “But it’s even better because we’re in it together.”