North Xtra: North Allegheny junior eyes title in pole vault

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Through middle school, Bobby Upton was a sprinter on the track team. But he realized when he got to high school that future success wouldn't come in the 100 meters.

So he went to try an event he thought looked fun -- the pole vault.

Today, Upton will be one of the favorites to take the district title in that event.

Upton, a junior at North Allegheny, has cleared 14 feet, 7 inches this season, which is better than the height that North Allegheny's Brett Neugebauer cleared to win the WPIAL Class AAA title last season.

"He's really worked for it," North Allegheny coach John Neff said. "He's worked hard in the weight room, he watches what he eats, he works on his technique. All the work has paid off."

Upton said his first year competing in the pole vault was rough, but he really started to come on last season in his sophomore year.

Last April, Upton placed ninth at the South Hills Classic and took eighth at the 11th annual Greater Latrobe Wildcat Invitational. Then in May 2013, Upton cleared the 13-foot mark to win the Pine-Richland Invitational.

But a hip flexor injury that progressively got worse throughout last season hindered his chances at the WPIAL qualifying meet, and Upton missed out on the district championships.

"It was a pull or a slight tear," said Upton, who resides in Marshall Township. "After the season, I had to do rehab until the end of July. Then I started to train again."

Upton realized his biggest weakness was his speed leading up to the jump, so he worked hard in the weight room and on the track, strengthening his legs and working on his agility.

His offseason work has helped him post the best vault of any WPIAL Class AAA athlete this season, a 14-7 in a tri-meet with Shaler and Pine-Richland April 14.

"The progress he's made isn't really typical; he's spent the entire year getting better," Neff said. "I've had other kids who were very dedicated, but he's something special."

Upton's success started in the indoor season, where he placed second at the Tri-State Track Coaches Association Indoor Track and Field championships and sixth at the indoor state meet.

He carried his momentum over to the outdoor season, winning the TSTCA Outdoor Track and Field championships and the 12th annual Greater Wildcat Invitational.

Then last week, he qualified for the WPIAL Class AAA championship meet.

While he's never competed at WPIALs before, he can lean on the advice he's gotten in the past from a few former teammates, 2013 WPIAL champions Neugebauer and Brooke Mancuso. Mancuso went on to win the PIAA Class AAA girls pole vault title, too.

"They were like secondary coaches for me," Upton said. "Our coaches are great, but it's always good to have a second opinion and a different take. They've gone through the same issues and know how to relate."

Upton has his sights set on clearing the 15-foot mark and getting as high as 15-6. If he can do that, he'll have a good chance of not only taking home the WPIAL championship, but also the state title.

The winning vault in the state championship was 15 feet last season.

"You can't look at his progress and expect anything less than top marks," Neff said. "And not only at WPIALs, but states, too."

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