SECTION XI INDIVIDUAL CHAMPIONSHIPS/STATE QUALIFIER
Strange as it may sound for the greatest pole vaulter in Riverhead High School history, but Charles Villa may have been suffering a crisis of confidence recently. His coaches noticed it.
One of those coaches, Jim Henderson, then provided the few words that Villa needed to hear. As Villa related, Henderson told him: “You got to stop being mental. You’re the best one here, so act like it, so jump like it.”
And, just like that, confidence was restored.
Villa, who set a school record two weeks ago by clearing 15 feet 1 inch, but then failed to clear a height at a meet last week, returned to top form on Friday. The senior finished atop the field in the Section XI individual boys track and field championships/state qualifier at Port Jefferson High School.
The top-seeded Villa lived up to his billing, qualifying for the state championships for the second year in a row. He will be making the trip to Cicero-North Syracuse High School for the state meet on June 6 and 7.
There was a discrepancy in the final height that Villa cleared on Friday. Although he and his coaches said he made his first attempt at 14-6, the meet’s official scoring system, just-in-time-racing.com, had his winning height listed as 14-3.
Villa was going to attempt to break his school record by trying for 15-2, but decided against it as rain began to fall. He said he would have loved to keep vaulting, but stopped out of concern for the potential of injury. He has a history of ankle problems. When he was a freshman, he broke his right ankle in the state qualifier. The year after that, he sprained both ankles. He has also suffered third-degree burns on one of his ankles. Villa qualified for this past state indoor meet, but then couldn’t compete because of a torn ligament in his left ankle, his takeoff ankle.
All of that made his decision to call it a day on Friday easier.
“I don’t want to get injured again, you know,” he said. “I had to make a smart move, and I think I did make the smart move. I didn’t want to risk it.”
Despite being the No. 1 seed, Villa knew full well that an anticipated result cannot be taken for granted. There are no guarantees, especially in the pole vault, a complicated event in which many things can go wrong on a given day.
Villa was one of 15 seniors among the 24 pole vaulters who competed Friday. The great majority of them competed for the last time this season.
“It is pole vaulting,” Villa said. “You never know. I could have no-heighted or something. I had to treat it as if it was also my last meet.”
Villa saw the two biggest threats to him as Mount Sinai junior Charlie Kollmer (14-3) and Longwood senior Kyle Cohen (13-6). They were second and third. (Another Riverheader, junior Kyle Gardner, did not clear a height, and Shoreham-Wading River sophomore Liam Lane tied for 14th place at 11-0).
Villa entered the competition at 13-0, rubbing chalk on his hands before succeeding on his first attempt despite his pole rolling against the bar. He was ready to go to work.
Riverhead coach Steve Gevinski liked what he saw.
“His ankle has been something that’s really been a problem at the beginning of the season,” Gevinski said. “I think once he overcame the ankle fears, there’s nothing really stopping him.”
Coaches say there is no secret to Villa’s rise in the pole vault over the years.
“He’s the best pole vaulter that we’ve ever had in Riverhead history and we’re lucky to have him,” Gevinski said. “He’s committed to this fully, 100 percent.”
Riverhead’s pole vaulting coach, John Andresen, said Villa works at his craft. “I always say he did his homework, and then he took the test and he passed; he got an A on it,” he said. “Some people want to play pole vaulting and other people want to learn pole vaulting.”
Villa said his ankles are feeling a lot better, which is a good thing because he said he is not finished making a run at bettering his school record, and he’s not just talking about 15-2. He wants to soar higher than that.
“There’s no way I’m leaving it at 15-1,” he said. “In reality, I’m not just going for 15-2. I’m going for way more than that because I’m leaving, it’s my senior year and I’m going to be leaving, and I want to leave something, not just something wimpy like 15-1. I want to leave something like legendary, a huge height that’s going to take a little while for someone to break it.”
Spoken like a confident pole vaulter.