Ryan Merlino continued his climb up the South Jersey all-time pole vault list at the Atlantic County Championships.
Merlino, an Oakcrest junior, cleared 15 feet for the first time and won his 3rd straight county title Friday at Stockton University in Galloway Township.
He’s now tied for 12th in South Jersey history and remains No. 2 in Atlantic County history, behind Brandon Kurtz’s 15-7 from the 1991 South Jersey Group 3 sectionals at Bridgeton.
He did break the Oakcrest school record of 14-9 set by Tony DeFeo at the 2004 Cape-Atlantic Championships, held at the same facility at what was then known as Stockton College.
Merlino is No. 4 in New Jersey and No. 1 in Group 2 and No. 1 among underclassmen. He’s the 5th vaulter in South Jersey history to clear 15 feet as a junior. Haddonfield’s Mark Murphy won the 1985 state Group 1 title at Rutgers with a then-meet record 15-0 clearance, Kingsway’s Dylan Altland went 15-2 ¼ at New Balance Nationals in Greensboro in 2013 and Delsea’s Morales twins both did it in 2019 – 15-6 for Marco at the South Jersey Invitational at Delsea and 15-7 for Nico at the Tri-County Championships, also at Delsea.
It was a record-setting day for Merlino, but it almost never happened.
Merlino passed through 12-6 and then missed his first two attempts at his opening height of 13-0. But one miss from no-heighting, he cleared 13-0 on his 3rd attempt and then sailed over the bar on his first attempts at 13-6, 14-0, 14-6 and 15-0. He finished by taking three tries at 15-3.
Cedar Creek sophomore Ryan Hassa also PR’d for second place with a 12-0 clearance.
The only other 15-footers in New Jersey this year are Rutgers-bound Hillsborough senior Brian O’Sullivan [16-0 after a 16-6 ¼ indoors], Old Tappan senior Nathan Park [15-6] and Ridgewood senior Matthew Aono [15-2].
Merlino cleared 12-0 as a freshman and 13-6 as a sophomore. This past indoor season he improved to 14-9 and placed 4th in the Meet of Champions. He improved his outdoor PR to 14-8 at the Penn Relays before hitting 15-0 on Friday.