Maranacook’s Nicole D’Angelo went into the Class C state track and field championships as the meet’s top seed in both the shot put and the pole vault. Despite her status as a favorite, however, coach Ronn Gifford said she didn’t go in looking like one.

“I’d love to tell you she had two fantastic practices heading into the state meets, because she didn’t,” he said, laughing. “There would be some in the theater world that say a crappy dress rehearsal means it’s going to be a great show. And that was kind of the way.”

Like a Broadway star, once it was time to perform, D’Angelo was ready. She won both events, setting a school record with a jump of 10 feet in the pole vault and leading the Black Bears to their first state championship. For her performance, D’Angelo is the Kennebec Journal Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year. Teammate Molly McGrail, Erskine’s Kaylee Porter, Cony’s Anna Reny and Monmouth’s Maddie Amero were also considered.

“I knew this was my senior track season, the last sport I was going to do in high school,” D’Angelo said. “I just wanted to give it my full attention, my everything that I had.”

The successes of late spring came after D’Angelo struggled to find her form in the early part. She had great throws in practice, but had trouble translating that to success in the meets. And in the pole vault, a botched attempt triggered a funk that had D’Angelo second-guessing both herself and her technique.

“It’s a very good pit (at Maranacook), but it created a little bit of a lip and I caught it and it jilted me backwards,” she said. “It gave me such a mental block for the longest time.”

Gifford could see the doubt in his ace vaulter, who had cleared 9 feet, 9 inches during the previous summer.

“She just wasn’t finding that confidence particularly in the plant and take-off to be able to get back to those heights she was at and even pushing past that,” he said. “I think she was kind of over-thinking it a bit.”

The solution was plenty of practice and long hours. D’Angelo would work with Gifford in the mornings and then stay late after practice to get more and more comfortable with her technique.

“When I wasn’t at practice, I was practicing my form, just laying down on the ground and doing form drills,” she said. “I was watching videos in study hall and at my house before I went to sleep. Every minute I had, I was trying to get better.”

She found her form in time for a KVAC title, and then was poised for a victory at states after clearing 9-9. The only landmark ahead of her was the Class C record of 10-6, and when assistant coach Mike Boyman asked if she wanted to go for it, D’Angelo said she wanted the bar set first at 10 feet in order to reach a personal plateau.

There was risk involved — D’Angelo could only afford a couple of attempts in order to save enough energy to go for the record.

“I just needed to not think about it and let the vault happen,” she said. “Speed to the bar, feet up and turn.”

The form that had seemed so fickle earlier in the year was pristine this time, and D’Angelo cleared the bar comfortably, yelling out in victory on her way down.

“I cleared it, and I was like ‘Oh my God, I just cleared 10 feet. I am a double-digit vaulter. This is insane,’ ” she said. “To come from 6-6 sophomore year to 10 feet senior year was just unfathomable to me.”

It wasn’t the day’s only highlight. Vaulters and throwers are rarely one in the same, but D’Angelo, who worked extensively throughout the season with throwing coach Mark Dennett, won the shot put title with a throw of 35 feet, 3.5 inches.

“It’s almost like there is no real, pure answer to every event as to what type of athlete’s going to fit in there,” Gifford said. “She just has been very good at the overall shot put technique. She gets across the circle fairly quickly, she’s got good snap and return.”

That versatility could pay off at the college level. D’Angelo will be competing at Endicott, and is even considering the heptathlon, a seven-event contest that requires its participants to be balanced and able to sprint, jump and throw.

In other words, right up D’Angelo’s alley.

“I’m looking forward to seeing if that’s a possibility for me in college,” she said. “Just try a bunch of stuff and see how diverse I can get as an athlete.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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