If Nick Schrader of the Olentangy High School boys track and field team ever doubts himself, he'll hear in his head the voice of former teammate Austin Hicks.
Hicks was Schrader's pole vaulting mentor his freshman year, when a 10-foot effort was a big deal. One meet, Schrader tried a bigger pole and got nervous.
"I couldn't get up," Schrader recalled. "(Hicks) came up to me and just said, 'Quit being a wimp and just do it.' Ever since that, I've followed that motto through my whole career. Every time I'd get on a bigger pole and wasn't sure what I could do, I'd remember him being in my face and telling me to just do it."
Schrader hit 13 feet as a sophomore and 14 feet consistently as a junior, and this past winter finished third in the Division I indoor state meet with a 14-6. He matched that height April 20 in the Dublin Classic at Coffman, a mark that entering the week was the fourth best in the state regardless of division, according to MileSplit.com.
Those performances, as well as a friendship with former Gahanna pole vaulter Jake Blankenship, the 2011 and 2012 Division I state champion and state record holder (17-2) who now competes for the University of Tennessee, helped earn Schrader preferred walk-on status at Ohio State next year. He officially was notified in a letter he received April 22.
Blankenship's uncle, Rob Banhagel, is a volunteer pole vaulting coach for the Buckeyes.
"I kind of knew it was coming, but still, I kind of freaked out," Schrader said.
Olentangy pole vaulting coach Jay Mathy said a big part of Schrader's progression was him gaining 20 pounds, mostly in muscle, between his sophomore and junior seasons. He now is 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds.
"He became a gorilla right in front of me," Mathy said. "Nick has done camps every summer and works all year round. He's been awesome."
Schrader was third (14-0) in the Division I, district 1 meet last year and seventh (13-8) at regional, falling three spots short of a state berth.
Next on Schrader's to-do list is the school record of 15-6, set by Hicks in 2010. Schrader, whose season goal is 16-0, might get the chance Friday, May 3, in the Olentangy Invitational.
"Austin wants to see me beat (the record). That's awesome motivation," said Schrader, who also is a long jumper and hurdler. "I just need to get faster (and) get my swing stronger and once I'm up top, really pull and turn around. Once I have that down, I'm set."
Even though the school record is six inches better than his previous best, Schrader is adamant he can achieve the mark.
"When I hit 15 feet (indoor), someone was taking video and I saved a screen shot at the moment of my peak, and I was six inches over," Schrader said. "I was already achieving that on my 15-foot pole."
Mathy has little doubt Schrader can set that record and continue the Olentangy school district's success in pole vaulting. Recent state qualifiers include Liberty's Chris Uhle (champion in 2010, third in 2011, sixth in 2008), Joey Uhle (runner-up in 2010 and 2011) and Mike Uhle (champion in 2007), Olentangy's Hicks (tied for fourth in 2009), Whitney Bice (second in 2012) and Jade Riebold (tied for sixth in 2008) and Orange's Ayla Starcher (eighth in 2010).
"There's something about carrying a 12-pound pole in your hands and doing 20-meter sprints a few thousand times that makes you faster," Mathy said. "(Schrader) has stuck with it for four years, and you're seeing the results."
Liberty girls win Freedom Relays
The Liberty girls team's 1,600-meter relay did exactly what it needed, finishing second (4 minutes, 15.6 seconds) behind Hilliard Davidson (4:09.4) and earning the necessary points to overtake the Wildcats and win its home Freedom Relays on April 26.
The Patriots finished with 96 points, ahead of Davidson (94), Orange (78), Olentangy (59), Dublin Jerome (50), DeSales (30) and Licking Heights (25), to earn their second consecutive Freedom Relays championship and third invitational title in as many events this year.
Liberty was fourth in the 1,600 relay entering the final leg, but sophomore Stephanie Paul pulled past two runners in the final 200 meters. The Patriots also got wins in the shuttle hurdles (meet-record 1:05.2) and distance medley (9:20.5) and edged Davidson despite having dropped the baton in the 800 relay and finishing seventh.
"Our team is incredibly strong. We have so much depth and so many good girls that just put in so much effort," said junior captain Katy McFarland, who ran the first leg of the 1,600 relay. "It's just really awesome to be able to invite people here and compete on our own turf. We wanted to be able to win another (Freedom Relays) here, where we put in all the hours and hard work."
Olentangy got wins in the sprint medley (1:53.3), pole vault (24-6) and high jump (14-6), and Orange won the 400 relay (50.9), discus (307-2) and shot put (98-1 1/2).
The Liberty boys were second (75) behind Davidson (116) and ahead of Westerville Central (75), Jerome (55), Olentangy (44), Orange (30), DeSales (27) and Licking Heights (13). The Patriots won the discus (411-10) and shot put (145-6).