Athlete of the Week

Sport: Track and field.

Event: Hurdles/Jumps.Class: Junior.

Accomplishment: Thomas had the race of the day Saturday at the Stanford Invitational, outpacing the field in the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 13.46 seconds. She broke the Central Coast Section record of 13.72 set by Monterey's Sani Roseby in 2000. Thomas also finished third in the long jump (19 feet, 3 1/2 inches) and triple jump (39-1 1/4). Last season, Thomas' state meet was cut short after she suffered an ankle injury in a relay. "Vashti is starting to realize her potential," Cardinals Coach Steve Nelson said. "Hopefully she can continue to race at this level. We didn't expect such a fast time at this point in the year. She has been in the ballgame in the past, and is a lot more focused on the track and in the weight room this year."

He's not alone up there anymore

Few athletic endeavors can match the pole vault's physical and mental demands. In a single sequence, it demands speed, strength, agility and timing - and the ability to conquer fear.

It's no wonder the event is difficult to master. But, occasionally, it can be done. St. Francis senior Casey Roche did it July30 in Baltimore.

"That whole day, I was feeling on," Roche said. "Everything was going well. I came to the point where I wasn't even thinking about technique. I was just running as fast as I could. It was all muscle memory."

Roche cleared 17 feet, 5 inches - a foot higher than he reached to place third in the state a few weeks earlier. He also earned Central Coast Section and Junior Olympic records. And he won the grand prize: a scholarship to Stanford, where his father, E. Casey Roche, once coached the event.

The jump stamped Roche as the country's top high school vaulter, one with an outside chance at the national record of 18-3.

It changed the way opponents thought of him, and even the way he thought of himself. A CCS title? A state championship? They seemed like foregone conclusions.

"The hardest thing for a high school athlete who is very, very good is managing his own expectations and the expectations others have for him," St. Francis pole vault coach Tom Tuite said.

Those expectations took a toll before the season even began in January. Eager to jump high early, to shoot for indoor records and to prove worthy

of his newfound stature as the vaulter to beat, Roche instead broke down. By overtraining, he strained his hamstring, twisted his ankle and suffered a viral infection.

Since then, two vaulters have emerged to challenge Roche's national No.1 status. One from Texas and another from Arkansas have gone above 17 feet.

But Roche has enough to worry about closer to home. Nico Weiler, a German exchange student, transferred to Los Gatos for his junior year and has a best of 16-6. All those championships Roche was expecting to win? Nothing is certain now.

Roche and Weiler matched heights at the St. Francis Invitational, two Los Gatos all-comers meets and the national indoor championship, with Weiler earning a decisive victory at the Reno Pole Vault Summit in January.

"The intensity of these kids - Casey's one of the toughest kids I've ever seen, and Nico shows some of the same qualities," Los Gatos pole vault coach Brandon Vance said. "You're talking about national-caliber kids coming out of the same area."

Taking stock of the pressure he was placing on himself, Roche took a step back. He took a brief break from training and competing to heal and re-evaluate his goals, choosing to build slowly toward an end-of-the-season peak, with an eye toward the CCS meet May25 and the state championships in June.

"I'm feeling better, stronger and faster," Roche said. "I'm back to where I feel I could start jumping again."

Though he only recently resumed full training, Roche has returned to form, setting a Stanford Invitational record of 16-6 on Friday and setting up opportunities for some high-caliber duels with Weiler.

If Weiler is healthy this week after suffering a minor groin injury, the two will go head-to-head the next two weeks at the most prestigious meets in the country - the Arcadia Invitational and the Mt. San Antonio College Relays.

Roche has come to believe that Weiler might be the best thing to happen to him. With Weiler just a few miles down the road, complacency isn't an option.

"The best athletes are the ones who know how to compete and rise to the competition," Tuite said. "If he's going to reach his potential, he's going to have to do that."

In other words, one perfect day might not be enough.

Tough times for sprinter

A case of tendinitis has put the track season in jeopardy for Mt. Pleasant's Jeneba Tarmoh, the defending state champion in the 100 and 200 meters.

The Tennessee-bound senior hasn't competed since March 10 at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships in New York, where she finished third in the 60-yard dash and fifth in the 200 meters.

Tarmoh has suffered from scoliosis - a condition in which the spine curves from side to side - since she was a child, Cardinal Coach Steve Nelson said.

A week before the New York meet, Tarmoh experienced lower back pain while competing in the Mt. Pleasant Relays, Nelson said. When Tarmoh returned from New York, she had an MRI done by Dr. Arthur Ting, who found tendinitis underneath Tarmoh's hamstring.

Tendinitis is the kind of injury that heals with rest, and Nelson is being very cautious with Tarmoh's training. She returned to practice Monday.

"She had a good workout, but there were things she couldn't do - she had trouble getting upright and really grabbing like we want her to while sprinting," Nelson said. "It might affect her weight training and plyometric work."

Tarmoh's condition puts a damper on Mt. Pleasant's chances for a state title.

"What we're going to get out of the season depends on her, but it's going to be tough to win state," Nelson said. "We don't want to pressure her to run because she has bigger fish to fry going to Tennessee next season."