SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Conor Reilly has taken his game to new heights this season.
The sophomore at Union Catholic came into this indoor track and field season with a personal best of 13-0 in the pole vault, an outstanding mark for his freshman year.
But he wanted much more than that this season, and he has gotten it as Reilly has continually raised the bar on his way to becoming one of the best vaulters in New Jersey.
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Reilly wasted no time hitting a new personal best when he made 13-6 at the Jim Mitchell Invitational on Dec. 22, and he's been climbing his way higher and higher ever since as he has gone through numerous poles during this breakout season.
Reilly made 14-0 for the first time at the Colts Neck Invit. on Jan. 9. Then he won the State Non-Public A title on Feb. 18 by making 14-3. That was followed by a school indoor record 14-6 when Reilly placed fifth at the Eastern Championships on Feb. 20. This past Sunday, Reilly soared over 14-6 again when he placed fourth overall and first among underclassmen at the N.J. Meet of Champions.
Reilly's 14-6 is tied for the fifth best vault in N.J. this season and is tied for No. 9 in the U.S. among sophomores.
"I was stuck on 13-0 all last year,'' said Reilly, who will conclude his indoor season at the New Balance National Championships (March 9-11 at the New Balance Track and Field Center in New York). "But I worked really hard over the summer on my weaknesses, went to some camps, and worked out everyday at school. And now everything is coming together.''
Reilly credits Union Catholic head coach Mike McCabe and UC vault coach Jeff Zeigler for his rapid improvement.
"I work with Coach McCabe on my sprint speed on the runway and the vaulting part is all Coach Zeigler,'' said Reilly, who also credited the instruction he's received at the Hudson Valley Flying Circus in Warwick Valley, N.Y. as being instrumental in his development.
Reilly said he's hit all his goals for the indoor season.
"The goals I had for this season were to hit 14-6 and make nationals,'' said Reilly. "So I'm really happy with what I did both. When I made 14 for the first time, that was unreal. I was on cloud nine. It was a really big deal for me because that's kind of when you separate yourself from the novice vaulters and get up to that next level. And then when I made 14-6 for the first time that was the best feeling ever. Now, I'm working hard to get over 15-0 (which is the state sophomore indoor record). I definitely feel I'm capable of making it.''
Reilly stands at just 5-8, which makes his vaulting success even more impressive. But he quickly points out that LSU commit Mondo Duplantis, the current World Junior record holder (under 20 years old) and greatest high school pole vaulter of all-time, and World Record holder Renaud Lavillenie are both 5-10.
In addition, Adam Sarafian was 5-8 when he set the current New Jersey state pole vault record of 17-4 ½ as a senior at Ocean Township in 2004.
"Mondo and Renaud are the best of the best and their height hasn't been an issue for them, so I take inspiration from those guys,'' said Reilly.
Reilly, also the starting goalie on the UC soccer team, has always had a flare for doing things in the air, and like many great vaulters, he has a strong gymnastics background.
"I think the thing that makes me so successful in vaulting is that I've had a long career in gymnastics,'' said Reilly, who lives in Scotch Plains. "I did gymnastics for like nine years, and it just feels very natural for me.''
Reilly's gymnastics experience was responsible for helping get him introduced to vaulting. When he attended a track camp at Union Catholic in eighth grade, Andrew Ghizzone was working the camp. Ghizzone won the pole vault for Union Catholic by clearing 16-0 at the 2014 outdoor Meet of Champions, and he captured the heptathlon title this past weekend for the University of Colorado at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Indoor Championships.
"Andrew recognized me from gymnastics and said I should try the vault,'' said Reilly. "I've loved it ever since.''