Vicki Pellicciotti, pole vault coach at South Carroll High School, said she has her athletes execute handstands against the wall to gauge whether they’re afraid to be upside down while holding up their body weight.
Peyton Thomas was timid with the exercise at first, Pellicciotti said. After all, the freshman was new to pole vaulting.
“The first day I had him we asked the kids who wanted to try pole vault and he came over and said he wanted to try it,” Pellicciotti said. “He was very humble and quiet and I had no idea what was going to happen once I started training him.”
Thomas, an incoming sophomore, competed in three meets this past indoor track season. Two of the three were championship meets — the junior varsity county meet, and the Class 2A West meet. He cleared 9 feet, 6 inches at counties, good for a personal record height, and took second.
Thomas said he had a lot of time to train when he couldn’t attend certain meets due to the number of vaulters ahead of him. In doing so, he got to practice with multiple poles in different sizes.
By the time the outdoor track championship season arrived, Thomas’ height had gradually increased. He vaulted 10-6 at the JV county meet and placed second.
“Every pole he used, he would just execute and the goal is to get on larger poles to jump higher while working on your technique,” Pellicciotti said. “He would just attack the pit with no fear and continually and consistently increased his PR.”
Sam Lape was injured during a practice prior to the Class 2A West meet this spring, and Thomas was given the opportunity to compete in his place. It paved the way for him to qualify for states and New Balance Nationals Outdoor, a prestigious high school track meet that takes place each June at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Thomas vaulted 11-3 at regionals and finished 10th to qualify for the state meet at Morgan State University the following week. He cleared 12-6 and placed ninth there, good for another PR.
“I was nervous, but kind of excited once I got down there,” Thomas said. “I was really shocked because I didn’t know I could do it. They’re all really good and 2A is really competitive.”
The qualifying pole vault height for freshman boys at New Balance was 12-3, and Thomas said he had no idea prior to surpassing the qualifying height at states.
Thomas registered as an unattached athlete for New Balance and was the only Carroll County athlete who qualified. Pellicciotti, an official United States Track & Field coach, was able to coach Thomas as a club coach and not as a high school affiliate.
“I told him that anything was possible,” Pellicciotti said. “You can make it all the way down here, but you never know what will happen. If you don’t make height, you’ve already won by qualifying. Anything beyond that is just icing on the cake.”
Thomas’s goal was to clear 13 feet, but he still reached a personal record by vaulting 12-8. Thomas placed 11th in the event.
“I didn’t know nationals was a thing until I qualified,” Thomas said. “I had a lot of fun … it wasn’t that stressful.”
Patrick Tunkel holds South Carroll’s top record in pole vault for the Cavs at 14-6, a feat he accomplished as a sophomore in 2018. Thomas’ performance at states this spring sits five spots behind Tunkel, an incoming senior, on SC’s record list.
Thomas, 15, said he now has his sights set to clear 15 feet.
“There is no limit to what he can do if he continues consistent work and strength and conditioning,” Pellicciotti said. “The next three years are going to be historical for South Carroll … You have to be a fierce person to begin with in this discipline because you’re going to fail. To get up time and time again to continue pushing yourself is the biggest life lesson that can’t be taught anywhere.”