COLUMBUS -- Raymond Kovalchick was having a "tough week of practice" leading up to Columbus, according to Nordonia track coach Scott Barwidi.
"I think some of the pressures of being his first time at the state meet were mounting on him," Barwidi said of his senior pole vaulter. "He struggled through practice this week."
So Barwidi gave Kovalchick a simple message -- "just think about where you've been" -- and the senior captured third pace in the Division I boys pole vault state meet in Columbus.
"I think that calmed his nerves a little bit," Barwidi said. "He got down there and did what he wanted to do. It was an awesome experience for him."
As a freshman, Kovalchick vaulted just eight feet, according to Barwidi, compared to June 3 when he vaulted 15 feet.
It wasn't just his final height that impressed, but the ease with which he got there, hitting 14 feet and 14-feet-4 on his first try, 14-feet-8 on his second try and 15 feet once more on his first try.
If his journey at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium was easy, his path to get there was not.
During his freshman year, Kovalchick was vaulting eight feet. During his junior year, he tore his hamstring in the first meet of the year, forcing him to miss seven to eight weeks.
Then his senior year nearly came to a heartbreaking end after he tore the hip flexor off the bone. For a while, they didn't know what was going on.
"He was beat up and beating himself up, because it didn't feel good for a while," Barwidi said.
After three weeks, Kovalchick visited the doctor. After the break was discovered, they feared season-ending surgery might be needed, but gave him a few weeks to recover. Fortunately, he was able to dodge surgery, returning to action for Nordonia's meet against Twinsburg April 25.
With all that he had overcome, how could a tough week of practice keep Kovalchick from the medal stand?
In that week leading up to the state meet, Barwidi said he simply put his arm around his senior pole vaulter and said, "If I would have told you that you would be a district champion and a school record-holder, would you not have been thrilled with that?"
"Heck yeah," Kovalchick responded, according to Barwidi.
"So, you know what," Barwidi told his vaulter. "There's no pressure on you."
Meanwhile, in the boys 400, classmate Andrew Wahl placed 13th with a time of 50 seconds, less than a second from advancing to finals.
The senior snagged the last qualifying spot out of the Division I Austintown-Fitch Regional with his time of 49.66 seconds, which put him in Columbus by .11 of a second. That was an improvement of nearly four full seconds from last year's regional, when he finished 15th.