Michael Wilkens' hamstring was firing. The Syosset senior had just run the 4 x 400-meter relay at Tuesday night's Nassau Class A championships at St. Anthony's. Instead of heading over to the stands to cool off, he was ushered to the pole vault area with a simple edict -- clear the bar, win the championship.
Syosset had fallen behind Farmingdale and needed everything Wilkens could give them to win the title. It took everything he had.
"I was in extreme pain. I put on my spikes and I couldn't even run," Wilkens said. "But I was thinking 'we need these points.' I realized that if I didn't do it, I wasn't just going to let myself down, I was going to let my teammates down. I thought, 'hey, you've made it this far, lets just go a little farther.' "
When he arrived at the bar, the height was set at 12 feet, 6 inches. Wilkens was at a tactical crossroads.
"I could have taken extra jumps or passed to 13 feet and taken the extra rest," he said. "We had to make the decision whether to come in at a lower height or come in at a height where I was going to work a little bit for it."
He chose to rest his legs and move to 13 feet, a decision that he could not have fathomed making last season.
"This year, my jumping standards have gone up," he said. "I've become a better athlete in the pole vault. Last year, coming in at 13 feet, I would have thought [it was] crazy. This year, it's an easy height to clear."
The rest paid off. Wilkens cleared 13 feet on his second attempt, giving Syosset 10 points and the county title, 64-58, over the Dalers.
"It wasn't my best form," Wilkens said with a chuckle. "I just ran, put my arms up, and hoped for the best. It got the job done. That's all that matters."
Earlier in the night, Wilkens finished second in the 600, crossing the finish line in 1 minute, 23.85 seconds. As he ran the 600, he was thinking of the broader picture. Experience has taught him that planning and energy conservation are necessities in county meets.
"Everyone always wants that that title of county champion," he said. "But when it comes to a sport like track, where you need the points to win the title, you need to put your ego aside. I knew that if I really wanted to win that 600, I would have to throw all my cards on the table. I knew that I had to do two more events right after. I set myself up for second place."
There were other top performers for the Braves. Senior John Aronson won the shot put at 51-5 3/4.
"I knew that if I was going to win it, I was going to have to win it on the first throw," he said.
Junor Simon Nwana finished second in the 1,000, running a 2:38.90.