Plant, swing, throw, and push.
This is what runs through Joey Petrowicz’s mind every time he pole vaults.
The Westminster High School senior said it’s all a part of his strategy. And so far, it’s been working.
Petrowicz won his first championship last Saturday at the annual indoor track county meet when he cleared 14 feet, 3 inches in the pole vault, the event he has devoted so much of his time to.
“Over the summer I dedicated every single waking moment to the sport to progress as much as I could,” Petrowicz said. “I went from vaulting 12-4 at last year’s outdoor state meet to vaulting 14-3 at a county meet so I’m happy with my progression, absolutely.”
Petrowicz started vaulting as a freshman at Westminster, but he also shared his focus with high jump. He continued to vault as a sophomore and junior, but didn’t dial in on solely vaulting until this season.
He cleared 11 feet as a junior at last year’s outdoor county meet, good for sixth place, and teammate Danny Gillcrist took second after clearing 12-6. Gillcrist finished second at the Class 3A West and 3A state meets and cleared a personal record height of 13-10 at states.
Petrowicz finished just behind Gillcrist with fourth-place finishes at the region and state meets with a personal record height of 12-4 at regionals.
This year, Petrowicz’s success has drastically improved. Gillcrist said the duo have a very friendly, competitive vibe, and will coach each other as often as they can.
“We jokingly trash talk each other which is pretty important because it just forces us to get better,” Gillcrist said. “When Joey was jumping [at the county meet] and I was out, I would watch him. When he came back, I was telling him what to adjust and what to keep the same and he knows it, too. When I jump and don’t throw my pole the correct way, he will tell me to swing all the way up…
“Both the friendly, competitive aspect of it and helping each other literally improve as far as coaching, it’s really kind of getting us both to be a lot better vaulters.”
Gillcrist said pole vaulting is a very mental sport and if something feels off, the athlete can often feel it before he or she even takes the leap. He jumped 11-6 at the CCBC-Essex Last Chance meet on Jan. 18 and it’s the highest he’s gone this season, so far.
He placed fifth at Saturday’s county meet after clearing 10-6, and remained close to the pit as Petrowicz continued vaulting.
“Last season I was consistently jumping 13-6, but this season I’m hesitating a lot more and I’ve been out of the correct mental state,” Gillcrist said. “I’ve only jumped 11-6 this year and I count my steps to time everything. However many times we’ve jumped over and over, it’s the same thing. In your head you’ll really know if you will make it going down the runway, without the correct mindset, you’re not going to make it at all.”
Petrowicz trains at Sandstorm Vault, operated by Jacob Sanders out of Carroll Indoor Sports Center. He was one of Sanders’ first vaulters, he said, and there were originally about five athletes to start and the program has now reached close to 50 athletes.
Next up is the 3A West meet, held at the Baltimore Armory on Feb. 7. Petrowicz is ranked No. 2 in the state behind Linganore’s Carter Holsinger, according to athletic.net. The junior’s best performance is 15-1, a height he reached Jan. 12 at the Montgomery Invitational.
Petrowicz certainly has his strategy in check, and his sights are set on beating Holsinger.
“When you’re running with your pole, you count every time your left foot hits the ground when you’re a right pole vaulter,” Petrowicz said. ‘When you’re a lefty, it switches, so I do a seven-step and when I’m running I’m counting down from seven every time my left foot hits the ground.
“As I’m getting ready to do this, my mind just clears.”