By BEN JOHNSON
Zach Skimbo was vastly better than Brandon Conrad during the high jump competition the week before the state meet.
Skimbo, a senior at McAlester, scaled the bar at 6 feet, 2 inches to claim the regional crown at Tahlequah High School. On his home turf, Conrad — a junior at Tahlequah — struggled to eclipse 5 feet, 10 inches on a day that will be remembered mostly for the blustery winds and light sleet with temperatures struggling to stay in the 40s.
Conrad, though, qualified for the Class 5A state meet in Yukon and nearly overtook Skimbo a week later. In a one-on-one competition to record a jump of 6 feet, 8 inches, Conrad and Skimbo both failed three times, with Skimbo being declared the state champion because of the fewest amount of misses early on.
“What caused him to get second place was his very first miss at 5-10,” Tahlequah coach Bart Frank said. “But he walked over and talked to me in between every jump, and we talked it through. He’d go back clear the jump, clear the jump, and he did that for the next five jumps.”
At the state meet, the bar is raised two inches at a time. Frank said if the bar had been set at 6 feet, 7 inches, Conrad would be wearing a gold medal around his neck this week.
“He was a lot closer to getting 6-8 than the other guy,” Frank said of Conrad, who would have set a career best at 6 feet, 8 inches. “He just barely missed it. The other guy was running right flat into the bar.
“Had it been 6-7, Brandon would have won. But that’s just the game.”
Conrad’s second-place finish was Tahlequah’s best at the state meet this season. It also capped off an eighth-place showing by the Tigers, who recorded 22 points.
The majority of Tahlequah’s points were hauled in by Sylas Sloan and Logan Cook in the discus. Sloan, a senior, came in third place at 152 feet, 4 inches, while Cook, a junior, wasn’t far off in fourth place at 151 feet, 10 inches.
“Logan, Eric (Garcia) and Sylas all had good performances in the throws,” Frank said.
For the Tigers, what set the tone for the entire weekend was the disappointment in the 3,200-meter relay.
With the lead after three-fourths of the race and the baton in Ara Poteete’s hand, the Tigers appeared poised to win the event for the first time since 2010. However, as Poteete approached the hand-off point where Zech VanFleet was waiting, he fell to the ground, causing the Tigers to drop from first to the middle of the pack.
“He was just spent with 30 meters to go,” Frank said of Poteete. “He just started locking up.”
Versus standing atop the medal podium, Tahlequah settled for sixth place at 8:24.18.
“Those guys pride themselves so much on the relay team,” Frank said. “...You can’t fault them because they’re trying their hardest, and when you run your legs out, you run your legs out.”
Tahlequah’s only other points over the weekend were via VanFleet, who was fifth in the 1,600-meter run.
“I know he’s disappointed,” Frank said of VanFleet, who ran the mile race in 4:39.34. “He feels like he should be in the top three. But that’s why we go run the race.”