Competing in the Missouri State Track and Field Championships for the first time, the Park Hill junior set three more school records and broke the state mark for pole vault in a span of just a few minutes Friday, May 29 at Dwight T. Reed Stadium. He had already won the event for Class 5 when he cleared 15 feet, 6 inches on the first try.
Nilsen kept inching upward and eventually became the first vaulter in Missouri history to clear 17-0 in state competition.
“I think in times of great pressure and when the stakes are raised to the highest point, I guess everything just came together,” said Nilsen, who beat out Liberty sophomore Kyle Rogers for the third straight week in postseason competition for the state title — the 11th in Park Hill history on the boys side and first since Trace Norfleet in 2009 (Class 4 long jump).
The first boys pole vault champion in Park Hill history, Nilsen spent all year rising to new heights. He set the school record originally at 15-3 before upping that to 15-7 and then 16-0 during District 8 and Sectional 4 competition the past two weeks.
Nilsen had a personal best in competition of 12-3 last year when he finished eighth out of eight in sectionals before an offseason training regimen helped coax out his natural abilities this season.
“Just a lot of motivation, a lot of help from friends and family and indoor coach and God’s grace just helping me everywhere,” Nilsen said.
After winning the state competition, Nilsen upped the bar to 16-0, which he cleared on the second try. He again needed two tries to go over 16-5 for the first time in his career before raising the bar to 16-9¼ in an attempt to erase one of the state meet’s longest standing records, which belonged to Mount Vernon’s Bruce Dial for the previous 22 years at 16-9.
Nilsen went over on his first try before bouncing up off the mat and bounding back down the runway in celebration as raucous applause broke out in the stands.
“’Bout time someone did,” said Dial, 41, who now lives in Springfield, Mo. when contacted via Facebook. “Happy for the kid. Glad pole vaulting is getting strong in Missouri.”
With chants of “Seventeen! Seventeen!” raining down from spectators, Nilsen went up to 17-0 and again cleared on his first try. He raised his hands to his head with a look of disbelief before letting a shy smile beam across his face while soaking in the adulation — a spot that would’ve been hard to envision a year ago.
“The thing about pole vaulting is you’re going to have some bad days and good days. The thing that really counts is just keeping at it and never giving up,” said Nilsen, who missed on three tries at 17-3 as a light rain started to patter down.
Nilsen went on to place fourth in the high jump after clearing 6-4 on Saturday afternoon in his followup to the pole vault record. He actually tied for second at that height with Oak Park’s Tre’Veon McIntosh and Lindbergh’s Doug Tate but wound up on the back end of the tiebreaker due to two early misses — one each at 6-0 and 6-2.
In the end, Nilsen accounted for all 15 of Park Hill’s team points, good enough for 14th place, and the Trojans’ only medals from the weekend.
Park Hill’s Papay Glaywulu, a sophomore, managed a 42-2 effort on his third jump of preliminaries but finished well out of contention for one of nine spots in the finals. He had routinely jumped better than 45 feet this year and won district and sectional titles before coming up short at state after placing eighth in the event as a freshman.
Grant Downes, a sophomore and first-time state qualifier for the Trojans, recorded a 15.80-second finish in his heat of the 110-meter preliminaries on Friday. He placed seventh in his heat and 14th overall.
Park Hill’s 4x800 relay team of seniors Noah Barajas, Christian Fisher and Hanok Tekle and sophomore Thomas Barker came in 14th at 8:15.42, about 6 seconds off their state qualifying time of 8:09.91. Mercedes Robinson, a senior and the Park Hill girls lone individual qualifier, finished 16th in the 3,200 while the 4x100 relay team of Alexis Stephens, Taiya Shelby, Amanda Alexander and Sephora Koudou came in seventh in the first heat of preliminaries with the 15th-fastest time.