It’s been weeks since Burroughs High’s Christian Valles took part in the boys’ pole vault at the 99th CIF State Track and Field Championships.
Although the elite meet is behind him, Valles still carries something to remind him of the effort and dedication it took to earn a spot in the competition against the most talented vaulters in the state.
“I have a wristband from state meet,” Valles said “I am still wearing it on my left wrist and I don’t want to take it off because I want to have it there to remind me that I need to go back there next year and hopefully place in the top five. That serves as motivation for me.”
Although Valles advanced to the state preliminaries, he wasn’t able to earn a spot in the finals. Despite falling short of that goal, the junior turned in a successful season and became the latest in a line of successful Burroughs pole vaulters.
“I think what Christian was able to accomplish this season as a junior was pretty impressive,” Burroughs pole vault coach Mike McHorney said. “He is a very determined person and he worked very hard to accomplish what he was able to accomplish this season.
“He was hoping to move on to the finals at state, but things happen. He went in prepared and he did the best that he could.”
Valles captured his second straight Pacific League championship and successfully maneuvered his way through the CIF Southern Section preliminaries, the Southern Section Finals and the Masters Meet to earn a spot in state competition.
It is because of those accomplishments that Valles was selected the 2017 All-Area Boys’ Track and Field Athlete of the Year, as voted by the sportswriters of the La Cañada Valley Sun, Burbank Leader and Glendale News-Press.
It was the third time in four years that an Indians pole vaulter was named athlete of the year, with Matthew Schwartz winning it on the boys’ side in 2014 and Sarah Prystupa capturing it on the girls’ side in 2016.
“That says a lot about our pole vault program at Burroughs,” said McHorney, who also vaulted for the Indians.
A long season and months of preparation led Valles to the state prelims June 2 at Veterans Memorial Stadium on the campus of Buchanan High in Clovis. He needed to finish in the top 12 in Friday’s event to advance to Saturday’s finals. The junior, who who entered with a personal-best mark of 15 feet, tied for 17th with a height of 14-4.
The field included just four non-seniors among the 22.
“I was not necessarily disappointed in how I did at the state meet and I have to keep remembering that it was an accomplishment for me just to get there with so many good vaulters in the state,” Valles said. “I was blowing through my poles and they were getting too small. So I was on a pole that I rarely get on and I blew through it on my last attempt.
“I was a little disappointed at first, but then I thought I can’t be mad at myself, I’m a junior and I made it up there.”
A week earlier in the Southern Section Masters Meet at Arcadia High, Valles placed seventh and equaled his personal best with a 15-0 effort.
Valles earned a spot in the Masters Meet by qualifying out of Division I CIF Southern Section Finals at Cerritos College. He was one of four vaulters to tie for fifth overall among the four divisions with a mark of 15 feet, which was the qualifying standard. In the Division I prelims he took fifth with a 14-6 mark.
“It was a very long season and I did a lot of vaulting,” said Valles, who had to take time off from training after state competition to nurse foot and knee injuries. “At the end there, I was having to cut back my jumps to try and give my body a little rest.”
Valles doesn’t plan on spending too much time sidelined with his injuries and he’s eager to get back to his training. Valles trains at UCLA under renowned pole vault coach Anthony Curran, as well as with Brooks Morris, a former coach and vaulter at USC and son of Burroughs graduate and 1960 Olympic gold medalist Ron Morris.
Those who know Valles expect him to attack his training with a vengeance during the offseason to and come back stronger for his senior campaign.
“He is just so dedicated and he is so focused on the pole vault,” said Indians girls’ pole vaulter Alex Akobian, who will be a senior. “He works hard and not only does he train at our school but two times a week he goes to UCLA to train with coach Curran. He also has all his jumps on his phone and he will look at those to see what he can do to get better.
“The great thing about Christian is that he’s a great teammate. He is just so positive and he is always willing to help other pole vaulters. Instead of concentrating on himself and doing his own thing he takes the time to help others to help them become better, and that’s really rare for an athlete. He actually helps us a lot.”
Along with the goal of qualifying for his second straight state meet, Valles has another focus when he returns for his senior season: breaking the school record. Valles is currently fourth on the Burroughs all-time pole vault list, trailing Essa Sallinen, who is first with a 16-4 3/4 mark from 1994, Schwartz who soared to a 15-9 in 2014 and Jon Switzer, who reached 15-7 in 1976.
“That is a goal that I really want to attain,” Valles said. “To get that record would be amazing. I plan to work out a lot and do more lifting and do more sprints. I want to focus more on speed right now rather than the vaulting. Hopefully I will come back next year and get that record.”
Said McHorney: “That school record is something that Christian really wants. And when he wants something, he is a pretty motivated person.”