SHIPPENSBURG - In the last couple of weeks, as he wound up a very successful track and field career, Northern Bedford County High School's Zach Pressel expressed two major driving forces.
First, he has a fear of failure. Second, he wanted to improve on his fifth- and fourth-place finishes in the Class AA high jump the last two years at the PIAA Track and Field Championships.
In one fell swoop, he managed to take care of both of those.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Northern?Bedford’s Zach Pressel competes in the high jump on?Saturday.
In what appears will be his final meet ever, Pressel saved his best for last and cleared a personal-record 6 feet, 8 inches to become the school's first-ever gold medalist on Saturday at Shippensburg University's Seth Grove Stadium.
"It's not really sinking in, I don't think," said Pressel. "But if feels amazing to be first in the state."
Pressel's winning height even exceeded that posted by the gold medalist in Class AAA during the morning session.
Pressel was one of three area competitors who came away with medals in the event. Cambria Heights' Shawn Lacue finished fourth by clearing 6-6, as did bronze medalist Aondofa Anyam of Church Farm. Northern Cambria's Tyler Olish took seventh with a jump of 6-4.
Defending champion Charles Wilson-Adams of Tyrone just missed out on more hardware, winding up as part of a five-way tie for 10th by going out after making 6-2.
Pressel beat Chris Stone of Springfield (Montgomery County) on fewer misses. There were a couple of discussions by officials about what kind of height increments should be made toward the end of the event, including whether or not Pressel and Stone should move up to 6-10 or 6-9.
Pressel's previous career best was 6-7.
"I just felt really good," Pressel said. "When I woke up this morning, my legs felt amazing."
Pressel said he didn't come in shooting for the stars. He just set a reasonable goal and let things fall into place from there.
"I was just trying to better what I did the last two years," Pressel said.
Pressel entered the event as one of 10 jumpers tied for fifth seed after jumping 6-4 at their respective district meets. That didn't even include Wilson-Adams or Lacue, both of whom had achieved heights in excess of 6-6 this season.
"This competition isn't something you usually see," Pressel said. "It did weigh on my mind that they have jumped higher than I have before or made just the same heights. That just gives me a little extra motivation."
Pressel, who is planning to attend Penn Tech instead of competing in track in college, already was motivated by a strong distaste for not reaching a goal.
"At the time, I thought those [fifth- and fourth-place finishes] were the best that I could do. But, when I came back as a junior, I knew I had to do better than fifth," Pressel said.
Just a junior, Lacue definitely can follow Pressel's example.
"It makes me feel I can do so much better. It really does," said Lacue, who jumped a school-record 6-8 this season after maxing out at 6-1 in 2012. "Sophomore year, I finished in third place [at the District 6 meet], and then they changed it to just first and second [advancing to states] instead of first, second and third."
A lanky right-hander, Lacue sports the unusual technique of approaching the bar from the left side.
"I don't know [the reason]. It's weird. I just started doing it in seventh grade, and it stuck," Lacue said.
Lacue was seeded fairly low because he only jumped 6-2 in miserable conditions to win the event at the District 6 meet. Still, he said, like Pressel, knowing how easy it could be to get swept away by a strong field kept his nose to the grindstone.
"If I don't have competition, I'm not going to jump as good. I need that competition to bring out my best. It's like that in other sports, too," Lacue said.
A senior, Olish wasn't expected to be part of that competitive equation, at least he wasn't before he joined Pressel, Lacue and Wilson-Adams in a spirited Class AA high jump competition at the West Central Coaches Meet.
"That's mu turning point. That helped me out a lot," Olish said. "Speed was a major factor. I never used speed much this year. Then, in my last week of practice, I started to get it all, and it helped me out a lot."
Olish wouldn't have even made states last year when District 6 only sent two qualifiers. He finished behind Lacue and Wilson-Adams at districts this year.
"It feels great [to medal]. I expected a lower height than that. I was seeded third to last," Olish said.
Olish, though, came in with confidence.
"My best was 6-foot-6 in practice on Wednesday," Olish said. "I figured 6-6 or 6-4 would get me in the top eight somewhere. I was kind of surprised, just a little bit."