Bethel Park pole vaulter Nirella continues to raise the bar

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Saturday, May 15, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Isaac Nirella, a junior at Bethel Park, has made great strides in just his second year of pole vaulting competition.

“It’s really his first (outdoor season) since he lost last year,” coach Mark Jacobs said. “Isaac has improved so much from last year — over 3 feet so far — and he has a very good chance of placing at the WPIAL championships and making it to states.

“Isaac has been coming along well during the outdoor season, though he’s been slowed down the last few weeks by an ankle injury. He is starting to finally get that behind him and should have some big vaults coming up soon.”

Nirella corralled second place at the South Fayette Invitational earlier this season and third at the Tri-State Track Coaches Association championship meet. He recently placed fifth at the 47th annual Baldwin Invitational by clearing 12 feet, 10 inches on a cold, blustery day.

“The sky is literally the limit for Isaac,” Jacobs said. “He is still so raw in the vault and his potential is so high.

“He is starting to get used to the environment at the big meets and what it takes to vault well there. He went from a beginner to a very good vaulter very quickly, so he did not have time to adjust and learn how the meets work. It has been a learning experience for him but one that will pay off in the end.”

Close to 100 schools participated at the Baldwin Invitational held May 7-8 at Baldwin Stadium. Along with a chilly temperature, the athletes had to deal with wet weather on the first day of the meet.

“I did all right at Baldwin,” Nirella said. “It was really bad weather. My goal right now is to place in WPIALs and do good at states.”

An ultimate frisbee enthusiast and formerly a longtime soccer player, Nirella is participating in his first outdoor track and field season but has made steady improvements in that short period of time.

“I haven’t been vaulting for that long,” Nirella said. “I’ve only vaulted two indoor seasons and this outdoor season with a lot of breaks in between. But when I started (sophomore) year, my friend at the time and now my girlfriend Liv Underwood asked me to do it.

“Also, one of my best friends, Josh Libell, did it too, so that was cool. He throws now but comes down to vault occasionally. I also started long jumping but I literally only did it once at a meet. It would be fun to work more on that but vaulting is my main event.”

The school record in the boys pole vault event is 13-9, set by Scott O’Halek in 1993 and something Jacobs believes is attainable for Nirella, whose PR stood at 13-3 in early May.

“Isaac is the vaulter who’s improved the most this year, which is saying a lot because I’ve had a lot of large improvements,” said Jacobs, head coach of BP’s girls team. “He started vaulting last year and got very little reps before the shutdown. Once we came back from covid in the fall, Isaac started to jump extremely well. It seemed like every day I had to change my expectations for him.

“I believe he can be the best vaulter in school history, place at WPIALs and possibly make it to states.”

Two other Bethel Park pole vaulters being groomed for future success are sophomore Liam Darr and freshman Paul Baronak.

“We have a young boys team, an exciting team with a lot of kids who are working hard,” Jacobs said. “Michael Conroy is a senior who has come out this year and is tearing up the track in the hurdles. He is ranked in the top 10 in the WPIAL in the 110 hurdles and in the top five in the 300 hurdles. This is all after not running track since he was a freshman.

“And Max Blanc has continued his great season in the javelin with another victory at the South Fayette Invitational.”

Scott Orzechowski, a senior, and Blanc, a junior, took sixth and 11th place, respectively, in the javelin at the Baldwin invite. Conroy placed fifth in the 300-meter hurdles.

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