Mark Sabin’s record-setting pole vault in the Central Jersey Group IV sectional on May 25, 2019.

Mark Sabin was a sophomore just picking up the pole vault, but every once in a while he’d raise the bungee cord to the High School South school record height 14-feet-3 during practice.

“My club coach always says, you can always tell what you can jump based on how high the bungee or bar looks,” Sabin said. “At the time, it looked impossible, like I’d never get it.”

Three years later, Sabin has raised the school record almost a full foot and graduates as the record holder for Central Jersey Group IV as well, after clearing 15-feet-2 to win the sectional May 25.

Sabin ran cross country as a sophomore, and when he came out for spring track, his cross country and track coach Kurt Wayton suggested he try pole vault. It seemed to suit the personality of Sabin, who had been exploring competitive rock climbing options when he came to track.

“My parents have always known that I like to have my head below my heart,” Sabin said. “I think there might be something to that, maybe I feel better when I have blood rushing to my head.”

He found a healthy approach to his new passion. “It was a lot of experimenting and seeing what worked,” Sabin said. “I came up with a phrase—the better you do, the higher you vault, the higher you vault, the more fun you have, the more fun you have, the better you do. It was really all just having fun at that point.”

Part of the fun was putting the practice bungee up higher and higher to see his potential. It looked daunting when he’d raise it to the then-school record 14-3. “It was just fun to go after it,” Sabin said. “Suddenly I started getting close to it and I realized junior year that it was definitely going to happen by senior year.”

In the final event of his junior year, Sabin topped the school record when he cleared 14-feet-6 for fifth place at the Meet of Champions. That set him up for his senior year and another record.

“The expectations were high,” said Pirates co-coach Matthew Coburn. “He trains himself on how to do it. One thing that’s unfortunate is that pole vault coaches are rare, so we weren’t able to give him any real coaching tips. He learned it all on his own.”

Sabin found out all that he could, and he eventually took on some outside coaching at Vertical Adventures at the start of his junior year. It helped him continue to develop as a vaulter. “He watches YouTube, he reads books, he is extremely athletic,” Coburn said. “He’s a real strong young man and then when he finally got to a point where he couldn’t teach himself any more things he went out and sought a private coach.”

Sabin posted consistently high results down the home stretch of his high school career. He was second at the Mercer County meet at 14-feet, set his personal record, sectional and school mark at the CJ IV meet, took fifth at the Group IV meet at 14-feet and tied for eighth and a medal at the Meet of Champs, where he cleared 14-6.

Sabin credits some of his success to finding the right pole. Pole vaulters look for a pole that is long enough for the heights that they are attempting, strong enough yet light enough to get the bend and snap required.

“At counties was the first time I was trying new poles that were suited for me,” Sabin said. “But sectionals was the first time I figured it out and actually brought it all home to get the 15-2. Ultimately it was probably the pole selection that put me over the bigger heights.”

Sabin will continue to pole vault next year at Lafayette College. His 15-2 is already better than anyone that they had on their team last year.

“It’s nice to have somebody else up there with you,” Sabin said. “Having somebody push you in training is definitely a lot easier than just going at it yourself.”

Sabin has done well through his high school career without a ton of pole vault coaching. He’s excited for the next opportunity. He hasn’t pinpointed his goals for college, but he has a promising blueprint that worked before.

“I’m not quite sure,” Sabin said. “I’m just going to embrace like I did my sophomore year – do what I can, see where it takes me and adjust from there.”