SAN ANGELO, Texas -- Kasey Burlingham's season Saturday came down to one final try at 17 feet, 4½ inches.
Miss, and he finishes no higher than fourth. Clear it, and he's no worse than second with a shot at the title.
"I was working hard to keep my nerves under control," he admitted.
Burlingham's clutch pole vault set in motion his thrilling victory at the NCAA Division II Track and Field Championships, contested under threatening skies at Le-Grand Sports Complex on the campus of Angelo State.
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The Cal State Stanislaus junior, a graduate of Colfax High and Cuesta Community College, counter-punched from behind to vanquish 2008 national champion Bryant Wilson of Grand Valley State.
Burlingham trailed in misses, which forced him into a must-clear at 17-4½. After his do-or-die vault, he topped 17-8½ on his second try -- the third time he broke the school record this year -- while Wilson missed.
With his victory secured, Burlingham twice tried 18-¾, which would have earned an invitation to the U.S.A. Track and Field Championships. He then moved the bar to 18-2, the meet record, where he missed after a decent attempt.
"My goal for the meet was to shoot for All-American (top eight) first and national championship second," Burlingham said. "I was lucky to pull it (17-4½) out."
Not really. Many of his friends from Stanislaus, along with fellow competitors from the California Collegiate Athletic Association, rooted for him as he rallied.
Burlingham became the first national champion from Stanislaus since Chaunte Mitchell's twin pole vault victories in 2004 and '05. He also is the first male champion for the Warriors since their trio of winners in 1994 -- high jumper Undrae Walker, triple jumper Jomal Bush and decathlete and current Stanislaus coach Geoff Bradshaw.
"I couldn't have written a better script for Kasey. It was magical," Bradshaw said. "A lot of people from his JC days were there. At one point, he had the whole stadium clapping for him."
Burlingham labored with injuries since he won the JC state title in 2006. He got hot late in the season, however, and set up his duel with Wilson by winning the CCAA title. He improved his PR by 8½ inches this spring.
"That was huge," Bradshaw said. "He was probably the most athletic guy out there tonight, if not the fastest. He just had to hit that height (17-4½) and he did it."
Also earning All-American honors Saturday were seniors Jasimen Bailey, who finished seventh in the discus at 146-6, and Rosemary Feikert, seventh in the pole vault at 12-7¼. Feikert placed eighth at the nationals in 2008.