12/27/13 7:00am
12/27/2013 7:00 AM
ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Riverhead senior Dan Normoyle.

ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Riverhead senior Dan Normoyle.

For a track and field team to have one elite pole vaulter is a luxury. To have two? Even better. But three?

That’s just hard to imagine. But in 2013, the Riverhead Blue Waves had one of the most formidable pole vaulting trios any team could ever hope for.

Dan Normoyle, Jonah Spaeth and Charles Villa were often competing against each other at meets to determine the champion.

And at any given meet, it could be any of the vaulters with a top mark. At the state championship for the indoor season, Normoyle cleared 14 feet 6 inches and Spaeth cleared 14.

In the outdoor season, Normoyle and Villa qualified for the state championship. Normoyle again cleared 14-6 and Villa cleared 14. To qualify for states, Normoyle cleared 15 feet as the Blue Waves finished 1-2-3.

Editor’s note: We’re counting down the top 10 sports stories of 2013. Check back every day until Jan. 1 to follow along.

03/09/13 10:59am
03/09/2013 10:59 AM
ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead junior Dan Normoyle, one of three Blue Waves to pole vault 14 feet in the same meet, took first place in the Long Island Elite Track Invitational

ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Riverhead senior Dan Normoyle set a school record Friday in the pole vault at the New Balance Indoor Nationals.

Riverhead senior Dan Normoyle set a school record Friday by clearing 15 feet 3 1/2 inches in the pole vault at the New Balance Indoor Nationals at The Armory in New York.

Normoyle finished second in the emerging elite division behind Sean McEvoy of Fordham Prep, who cleared the same height but took first based on the number of jumps.

Normoyle came into the meet after a fifth-place finish at the New York State Championships last weekend when he cleared 14-06, which matched the previous record also held by senior Jonah Spaeth.

Spaeth had an impressive showing as well at the Nationals, clearing 14-03 1/2 for fourth place. Junior Charles Villa also competed in the competition but did not clear an opening height.

It’s been a banner year for the three pole vaulters this winter. The Blue Waves nearly sent all three to states. And at the Long Island Elite Track Invitational Feb. 23, all three cleared 14 feet, a rare feet in the pole vault.

“It’s never been done on Long Island, I don’t believe, certainly not in Riverhead,” Riverhead pole vaulting coach John “Doc” Andresen said after the meet.

The Indoor Nationals continues today and Sunday. Click here for live video coverage.

joew@timesreview.com

03/05/13 9:00pm
03/05/2013 9:00 PM
ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead junior Dan Normoyle, one of three Blue Waves to pole vault 14 feet in the same meet, took first place in the Long Island Elite Track Invitational

ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Riverhead senior Dan Normoyle, shown at the Long Island Elite Track Invitational, cleared 14-06 at the state meet Saturday for fifth place.

Like a pitcher in baseball, a pole vaulter has only so many jumps in him during a meet before fatigue begins to set in, making it more and more difficult to soar over the bar as the height increases.

The key for pole vaulters is to find the ideal height to enter the competition. Enter too early, risk fatiguing at the end. Enter too late, risk not clearing the initial height at all and falling into last place with the dreaded NH, or no height.

“The less amount of jumps you have to do in a competition, the stronger you will be in those jumps,” said Riverhead coach Sal Loverde. “The more jumps you have to do, the more your physical ability becomes spent.”

[Related: Illness slows down Udvadia at states]

At Saturday’s New York State Championships in Ithaca, Riverhead pole vaulters Dan Normoyle and Jonah Spaeth entered with lofty goals in pursuit of the top spot on the podium. The two seniors have routinely cleared 14 feet this season, giving them the confidence to wait until the bar already reached a high height before entering the competition.

Normoyle began at 13 feet 6 inches, a height 12 out of the 26 vaulters failed to reach. When it was over, he had soared over 14-06, landing him fifth among public school competitors for a spot on the podium. It was his first all-state finish. He was sixth overall in the federation, which includes all schools in the state.

Spaeth cleared 14-0 to narrowly miss a spot on the podium. He entered the competition at 13-0.

“Both Dan and Jonah had very respectable performances and should be very proud of themselves,” Loverde said.

James Steck, a senior from Shaker, won the competition by clearing 15-0. Two vaulters cleared 14-09.

“It was a very tightly packed field,” Loverde said. “It could have went either way.”

Loverde said both vaulters hoped to go as deep into the competition as possible.

“It’s a finicky event,” he said. “It’s a lot like relief pitching. But they went up there and they were well prepared and they achieved at a high level. It could have went either way. A little slip on the way down here or there and Jonah or Normoyle could have won it. But that’s the nature of the pole vault.”

Monday marked the first official spring practice and the two vaulters wasted little time getting right back out there. Along with junior Charles Villa, who narrowly missed earning a spot at states, the trio pulled out the mats for their first outdoor practice.

Coming off their success in the winter, there’s no telling what the trio can achieve in the spring, where vaulters typically jump higher.

And when dual meets begin, the Blue Waves can just about mark down a sweep in the pole vault for every meet.

Loverde said a more consistent practice schedule in the spring tends to allow vaulters to reach greater heights.

“The mere fact that they get more time in the actual vaulting setting helps to promote the opportunity for a greater height,” he said. “We got some really ridiculous potential for this spring.”

Before the winter season officially reaches the end, Riverhead’s three vaulters will compete at the New Balance Indoor Nationals at The Armory in New York. The three-day competition begins Friday.

“It’s the race to 15 now,” Loverde said. “Who’s going to be the first one over 15?”

They’ll get another chance Friday.

joew@timesreview.com

02/23/13 12:00am
02/23/2013 12:00 AM
ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead junior Dan Normoyle, one of three Blue Waves to pole vault 14 feet in the same meet, took first place in the Long Island Elite Track Invitational

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead junior Dan Normoyle, one of three Blue Waves to pole vault 14 feet in the same meet, took first place in the Long Island Elite Track Invitational

LONG ISLAND ELITE TRACK INVITATIONAL

After all the drama and all the excitement subsided, it was time for photographs. Photos for posterity.

Five smiling pole vaulters posed for photos in front of the pole vault mat, each athlete holding up one finger from one hand and four fingers from the other to represent the number 14. That is 14, as in 14 feet, the height each of them cleared.

Most high schools don’t have one pole vaulter who can clear 14 feet. Riverhead had three of them reach that height on Friday night.

Dan Normoyle, Charles Villa and Jonah Spaeth all reached 14-0 — along with two other pole vaulters — in the Long Island Elite Track Invitational at St. Anthony’s High School. Riverhead’s pole vaulting coach, John “Doc” Andresen, said it is the first time in the school’s history that three Blue Waves cleared 14 feet in the same meet.

“It’s never been done on Long Island, I don’t believe, certainly not in Riverhead,” he said.

Because the three Riverheaders handled 14-0 along with Smithtown West’s Karl Nilsen and Syosset’s Michael Wilkens, a tiebreaking procedure was used to determine the places. Normoyle finished first, Villa was second and Spaeth finished in a tie for third with Nilsen, leaving Wilkens fifth.

“I thought it was unbelievable,” Normoyle, a junior, said. “Five guys over 14 is just crazy. … It’s great to be part of the legacy of our school, to make a name for ourselves.”

For Villa, a sophomore, the height was a personal record. Villa said that as the bar was raised higher, he started getting nervous and began doubting himself a little bit.

ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River junior Ryan Udvadia moved up from the middle of the pack and finished second in the 1,600 meters in a personal-best time of 4 minutes 17.26 seconds.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River junior Ryan Udvadia (6) moved up from the middle of the pack and finished second in the 1,600 meters in a personal-best time of 4 minutes 17.26 seconds.

In the end, there was no need for doubt or nerves.

“It was great, all of us just getting 14,” Villa said. “It was just amazing.”

Villa’s first vault was at 12-6, with Normoyle and Spaeth entering the competition with the bar at 13-0.

One of the challenges of pole vaulting is dealing with the fatigue factor as the height rises.

“I was getting a little light-headed near the end,” said Spaeth, a senior who set the Riverhead indoor record of 14-6 earlier this season.

Pole vaulting can be a fickle event, as Andresen knows only too well. “Any time something goes wrong, we have the expression, that’s pole vaulting,” he said. “You know, it’s like a horse race, anything can happen.”

Spaeth will compete in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships along with Normoyle on March 2 at Cornell University.

“We’re coming to the point of the season where [personal records] start to weigh in,” Spaeth said. “This is when it’s supposed to happen, now.”

The Long Island Elite Track Invitational, which brings in many of the top athletes in Nassau and Suffolk counties, is seen as good preparation for the state meet. It surely was a good run for Shoreham-Wading River’s Ryan Udvadia and Jordan Wright.

Udvadia achieved several things with his race in the 1,600 meters. The junior posted a personal-best time of 4 minutes 17.26 seconds that was good enough for second place. The time should also place him in the seeded race at the state meet. Plus, the performance was a timely confidence boost.

“When you have good competition, it’s good,” Udvadia said. “Everybody says low competition, it’s easy to win, but I’d rather get second and do a great time.”

The one person Udvadia didn’t outrun was Northport senior James Dickinson, who won in 4:16.60.

“Coming into this meet, I didn’t see him as a threat, but he really came through,” Udvadia said. “He really did a great job, and he really pushed me to what I needed to do.”

Wright, competing in the 55-meter dash, also clocked a personal record, 6.65 seconds, to win his preliminary heat. The junior then posted a 6.67 in the final, good enough for third place.

Wright said the moments near the starting line before the gun goes off may test the nerves of some runners, but are important, nonetheless.

“It helps you a little bit, though, the adrenaline,” he said.

Two Riverhead juniors turned in sixth-place finishes: Davion Porter (5-10 in the high jump) and Marcus Moore (42-3 1/2 in the triple jump).

Porter said the quality competition helped him, too. “It gets you motivated and [helps you to] try to strive for higher heights,” he said.

Another Riverheader, senior Anthony Galvan, was 11th in the 1,000 in 2:43.51, slicing a second off his personal record. “That’s really something right there,” he said.

Riverhead sophomore Jacob Robinson finished first in the frosh/soph 300 in 37.73 seconds.

As the meet was winding down, and after Riverhead’s pole vaulters had finished their night’s work, the mild-mannered Andresen may have been among the most satisfied people in St. Anthony’s beautiful fieldhouse.

“He just had a smile on his face,” Normoyle said. “He doesn’t say much, but he was excited.”

bliepa@timesreview.com

02/18/13 8:00pm
02/18/2013 8:00 PM
COURTESY PHOTO  |  Riverhead pole vaulters (from left) Dan Normoyle, Jonah Spaeth and Charles Villa all cleared personal bests Saturday at the Armory in New York.

FILE PHOTO | Riverhead pole vaulters (from left) Dan Normoyle, Jonah Spaeth and Charles Villa finished first, second and fourth at the state qualifier. Normoyle and Spaeth will compete at states.

Every now and then, Sal Loverde, the Riverhead boys winter track coach, gives in to temptation, walks over to his pole vaulters and tells them what he thinks about their event. Typically, he says something like this: “Do you realize you’re completely insane with what you do?”

Loverde isn’t the first to question the sanity of pole vaulters, a fearless breed, to be sure. Pole vaulters are track and field’s daredevils, always trying to fling themselves to greater heights.

Over the years, Riverhead has built a reputation for producing some of the best pole vaulters in Suffolk County. Even so, the Blue Waves almost pulled off a rare feat last Wednesday when they nearly qualified three — count them: one, two, three — pole vaulters for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships that will be held March 2 at Cornell University. Two Riverhead seniors, Dan Normoyle and Jonah Spaeth, will compete in the state meet. Another Riverheader, junior Charles Villa, failed to qualify, but came oh so close.

“I would have been a little more surprised if we sent three up,” Loverde said. “I would not have been shocked, but I would have been a little surprised.”

Normoyle finished first in the state qualifying competition in Holtsville, clearing a personal-best height of 14 feet. His previous best was 13-4. Spaeth was second at 13-9.

Villa turned in a personal-best height of 13-6, which satisfied the state qualifying standard, but he needed to take third place in order to make it upstate. That spot, however, was taken by Smithtown West senior Karl Nilsen, who recorded 13-9 on his final vault.

It will be the first appearance in the state meet for both Normoyle and Spaeth.

Spaeth also competed in the Millrose Games, which were held Saturday at The Armory in New York City. He tied for third place in the high school competition along with Justin Farrenkopf of Ellenville and James Steck of Harrison. All three reached 13-9 1/4.

“That’s a very respectable day,” said Loverde.

Riverhead has been strong in the pole vault for at least 15 years, said Loverde. “We went from strong to off the charts,” he said.

Doc Andresen, the team’s longtime pole vault coach, is a big reason for that success.

“He’s a pole vault guru, and he does a phenomenal job,” Loverde said. “Year in, year out, we have competitive kids.”

Loverde said Riverhead introduces middle school athletes to pole vaulting through clinics, “and away they go. Once they plant and clear that first height, they’re on.”

Pole vaulting has been described as an addictive business, with athletes obsessed over propelling themselves higher and higher.

“If they can plant that bar and get up and never land, they’d be happy,” said Loverde.

Spaeth set the Riverhead indoor record of 14-6 earlier this season. Loverde expects the school’s outdoor record of 14-1 that was set by David Ludlum in the 1990s to be obliterated this spring.

“We have two kids that have been over 14 feet and one kid that is slamming on the door,” said the coach.

Riverhead’s top pole vaulters have some more vaulting to do before the state meet. They will compete in the Long Island Track and Field Invitational at St. Anthony’s High School on Friday and the Eastern States Championships at The Armory on Feb. 28.

Loverde knows only too well that anything can happen when it comes to pole vaulting. Predictions can be a risky business. For example, Riverhead’s pole vaulters failed to clear a height at last year’s state qualifier.

Loverde said, “It’s a very finicky event because there are a lot of things involved from the mental component to the physical component.”

bliepa@timesreview.com

02/16/13 4:00pm
02/16/2013 4:00 PM
COURTESY PHOTO  |  Riverhead pole vaulters (from left) Dan Normoyle, Jonah Spaeth and Charles Villa all cleared personal bests Saturday at the Armory in New York.

COURTESY PHOTO | Riverhead pole vaulters (from left) Dan Normoyle, Jonah Spaeth and Charles Villa at a meet earlier this season. Normoyle and Spaeth qualified for states.

Three days after qualifying for the state championship in the pole vault, Riverhead senior Jonah Spaeth will compete at one of the most prestigious track and field meets today: the Millrose Games.

The 106th Millrose Games will take place at the Armory in New York after switching from Madison Square Garden last year.

The high school pole vault begins at 4:30 p.m. Live coverage of the games begins at 7 p.m. on ESPN3.

[Click here for coverage]

Spaeth is one of 14 athletes competing in the pole vault.

The school record holder in the pole vault, Spaeth cleared 13 feet 9 inches Wednesday to qualify for states. Teammate Dan Normoyle won the competition by clearing a personal best 14-0. His previous best was 13-04. The Blue Waves narrowly missed sending three vaulters to states. Charles Villa was fourth at 13-06, which was also his personal best.

The pole vault is not contested during the league and county meets in the winter season. However, individuals can still qualify for the state meet.