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As the Division I girls pole vault championship lingered, with Walsh Jesuit's Allie Stern and Olentangy Orange's Anna Watson locked in a jump-off, Stern never stopped smiling, no matter the stress of everyone around her.
"It was so amazing, I loved it," Stern said.
During the week leading up to the state championship, she said her coach, Dave Mackey, had been texting her that she was going to win gold. The numbers indicated otherwise, and so Stern didn't truly believe Mackey until it was over and she had defeated Watson in an epic jump-off that went at least five extra periods.
"I never actually believed it, and when I did it, it was just amazing," Stern said.
In the opening jump of their everlasting jump-off, Stern seemed to have cleared the bar. As she plummeted to the mat, the bar above her shook ever so slightly. It seemed like it was going to stay, and then right as the yelling was about to begin, the bar toppled on top of her.
"I got excited and then it came down," Stern said. "I was like, 'It's okay.' I know I still had more in the tank."
That was one of many chances Stern had to win it on a walk-off, given that she was in the second jump-off position. Every time Watson missed, Stern had an opportunity to win it right then and there. Multiple times, she came agonizingly close to victory.
"She won it three times, so it was good to finally get in the end," Mackey said.
The downside of going second was when Watson successfully hit 13-feet-1 in the second round of the jump-off, Stern was in the unenviable position of having to hit that height. Again, she seemed unfazed, surging over the bar, then happily pumping her fist.
"I would just sit under the tent with my water and just take deep breaths," Stern said. "(The potential game-winner) fell down, but I also got bars that should have fallen but didn't today."
On and on, the match lingered, and Stern never stopped smiling.
"I wasn't really thinking much. I was just thinking, 'Thank you, thank you so much,'" Stern said. "There's just so much support and win or lose it was a great day."
On the fourth jump of the jump-off, Stern said, "I'm so stupid," after miscounting her steps, but then she laughed and continued on.
"She has a great attitude as it is," Mackey said. "Just to work with her is a joy and she knew she had this. She knew she was on today. Things were feeling good. We had done some new things. We had already PRed. That was her attitude there at the end. She was like, 'I don't care what we do now, because we've already won it.'"
Indeed, the pressure was on Watson if anything, given that the Orange senior had won the state championship the year before. Stern's regional height of 12-feet-4 was tied for fourth-best coming in. Last year, Stern tied for eighth at 11-feet-6, well behind Watson's championship-winning vault of 13-feet-4.
With all that context, with how far back she was in 2016, with how unexpected Saturday was, Stern's reaction makes sense. As soon as she cleared the bar to finally put an end to the prolonged jump-off, she jumped into Mackey's arms, a mixture of laughter and tears taking over.
"Those moments never get old," Mackey said. "Those big moments, those big PRs, those big accomplishments, it's really exciting. We're excited as coaches, and to see the kids get that excited too and knowing they appreciate you for the time you put in, that's what it is for me for her to do that."
Earlier in the day, senior Nichole Charnigo swept through the first two rounds of the Division I high jump championship before falling at 5-feet-4. She finished 11th in the competition.
Charnigo, a Walsh Jesuit senior, didn't hesitate to show emotion throughout. After clearing 5-2 with an almost-horizontal jump, she exploded with joy.
"She kind of takes a little bit of a different approach from a lot of girls," Warriors coach Brent Brown said. "Not so much of a power approach, but being able to be quick, being a little more agile, and she understands, she has that body awareness. Sometimes, she's a better coach than I am."
After absorbing a strike at 5-4, she put her hands over her face in agony.
"She's been hungry for it for the past couple of years and she's been working for it and I think what you saw is definitely something that's built up over the past handful of years of just working for it and being excited to be here and savoring the opportunity to be here," Brown said.
In the Division I boys pole vault championship, Jack Francetic sailed through his first three jumps, clearing 12-06, 13-00 and 13-06 on the first try. He cleared 14-00 on his second try, before falling at 14-04. If he had cleared 14-04, he would have made the medal stand.
Warriors senior Mary Figler came similarly close to the medal stand, taking 11th in the 800-meter run. Her time of 2:16.01 was just 1.20 out of eighth place.