Oakcrest junior Ryan Merlino did some clutch last-attempt pole vaulting Sunday, clearing 14-0 and 14-6 on his final attempts on his way to 4th place at the 55th annual Meet of Champions at Ocean Breeze.
Merlino took a whopping 15 jumps, clearing 12-0 on his 2nd attempt, 12-6 on his 1st, 13-0 on his 2nd, 13-6 on his 1st and then 14-0 and 14-6 on his 3rd. He took three tries at 15-0. Hunterdon Central senior Damian Scouloukas won the event at 15-0 (and also won the triple jump in a crazy and unprecedented double).
Merlino moved into a tie for the No. 13 mark in South Jersey history and No. 2 in Atlantic County history, behind only Absegami’s Brandon Kurtz, who cleared 14-6 ¼ in 1991 (and for the life of me I can’t find what meet).
Merlino is the first Oakcrest boy to medal at the indoor Meet of Champions since 2013, when Chase Toliver took 2nd in the hurdles in 7.54, Ishmael Muhammad placed 4th in the 800 in 1:53.68 and Daniel Jefferson was 4th in the high jump with a 6-4.
Last spring, Merlino had a 13-6 clearance at the Atlantic County Championships at Buena, but that was the only meet he cleared 12-0 or better. This year, he’s been a model of consistency, clearing 14 feet or better seven times, including his last six meets.
He’s the No. 1 underclassman in the state this year and the top South Jersey junior since Delsea twins Nico (15-6) and Marco (15-0) Morales in 2019.
Merlino is entered in the “Rising Stars” division of the pole vault at Boston Nationals. He’ll jump at 9 a.m. Saturday at the new facility known as The TRACK at the Boston Landing complex in Brighton, Mass.
The only other underclassman in the top eight was Willingboro junior Jackson Murry, who cleared 13-6 on his first attempt. That’s an indoor and outdoor PR for Murry.
All-Time South Jersey Indoor Pole Vault List
16-0 … Marco Morales [Delsea], 2020
15-6 … Dan Batdorf [West Deptford], 2008
15-6 … Nico Morales [Delsea], 2019
15-1 … Dylan Altland [Kinsgway], 2014
15-0 ¼ … Devon Purves [Haddonfield], 2006
15-0 … Mark Murphy [Haddonfield], 1985
15-0 … Mike Davis [Haddonfield], 2004
15-0 … Mike Rivard [Haddonfield], 2009
15-0 … Noah Kriesman [Cherry Hill East], 2021
14-11 ¼ … Tom Jeffers [Triton], 2011
14-7 … Brian Banks [Eastern], 2011
14-6 ¼ … Brandon Kurtz [Absegami], 1991
14-6 … Mike Maira [Seneca],
14-6 … Michael Oberg [Ocean City],
14-6 … Jarrod Brovero [Delsea], 2016
14-6 … Kyle Loveland [Moorestown], 2016
14-6 … Ryan Merlino [Oakcrest], 2023