As a sophomore last year, Sam Rusak went into the Class A indoor state meet seeded first in the pole vault but fouled out without clearing any height.

This season, he was a different athlete.

Rusak cleared 15 feet for the first time in January, then two weeks later won the SMAA title at 15 feet, 9 inches – the fifth-best vault ever in New England. Another two weeks passed, and he captured his first state title at the Class A championships with a vault of 15-6. He also won the high jump (6-2) and finished sixth in the 400 meters (52.30) to help his team to its fifth state title in six years.

Rusak, who now ranks second in Maine history in the pole vault, is the Maine Sunday Telegram boys’ indoor track Athlete of the Year.

“I thought he had an outstanding sophomore year. Then the state meet was a little bit back to reality for him,” said Scarborough Coach Derek Veilleux. “He came back this year, and you could just tell he was never going to let that happen to him again. He realized he had put too much pressure on himself last year. He was in a funk, and it took him (the entire outdoor season) to get out of it.

“You could just tell this year, weeks before the state meet, he was in a different place mentally. His confidence played a huge role in how he did this year.”

Scarborough has a long tradition of exceptional pole vaulters: 14 indoor champions since 1985 and 17 outdoor champions dating back to 1936.

Rusak’s ability to overcome setbacks and become one of the state’s all-time best makes his performance stand out.

His best finish at a state meet before this season was second at the Class A outdoor meet last year, which he secured with a height of 13-6. This indoor season, he vaulted more than two feet higher and improved by eight inches in the high jump.

“Last year he cleared (6 feet) once in the high jump. This year, every time he was over 6 feet,” Veilleux said.

Rusak still has a ways to go in the pole vault to reach the Maine and New England all-time best mark of 16-9 set in 2008 by David Slovenski of Brunswick. In the long run, though, Rusak’s best event might be the decathlon.

He’s slowly mastering the 10 events and has had success at the regional level, winning his age group in the decathlon at the USA Track and Field Region 1 meet last summer.

“His vault is good, but there are plenty of (NCAA) Division I vaulters. Something he has his eye on is the decathlon,” Veilleux said. “He certainly has a lot to learn. But he knows all the events now. And he is getting better at them all the time.”

TELEGRAM ALL-STATE TEAM

Ryan Bender, Mt. Desert Island senior, sprints: A double-winner at the Class B state meet, placing first in the 200 (23.00) and 400 (51.64) while taking second in the 55 (6.71). Finished 13th in the 300 (36.62) at the New England championships.

Paul Casavant, Hampden Academy junior, distance: Won the 2-mile at the Class A state meet by 16 seconds (9:34.68) and finished fourth at the New England meet (9:22.63).

Paolo DeMarco, Deering senior, sprints: Won the 400 at the Class A state meet in a state-leading time of 50.62 and finished second in the 200 (23.21). DeMarco was sixth in the 300 at the New England championships (35.52).

Tre Fletcher, Cheverus freshman, jumps: Took second at the Class A state meet in both the long jump (20-81/2) and high jump (6-0). Fletcher also placed third in the long jump at the New England championships (21-7)

Trever Gray, Waterville senior, throws: Successfully defended his Class B state title in the shot put (52-73/4) and was the runner-up at the New England championships (54-61/4).

Griffin Madden, Scarborough senior, hurdles: Won the hurdles at the Class A state meet (7.79) and finished eighth in the high jump (5-10). Also placed third in the hurdles at the New England championships with a state-leading time of 7.69.

Austin Lufkin, Brewer junior, throws: Won the shot put at the Class A state meet (54-91/2) and finished fourth at the New England championships (53-113/4).

Erick Seekins, Brewer senior, jumps: Won the long jump (21-2) at the Class A state meet and finished second at New Englands (21-91/4). He also finished fifth in the 400 at the state meet (51.91).

Matt Polewaczyk, Falmouth junior, sprints: Won the 200 at the Class A state meet (23.14), was third in the 55 (6.78) and ran a leg on Falmouth’s winning 800 relay that set a state record (1:32.89). That relay finished third in New England in an all-time Maine best time of 1:31.83.

Sam Rusak, Scarborough junior, jumps/sprints: Won the high jump (6-2) and pole vault (15-6) at the Class A state meet and also placed sixth in the 400 (52.30) to help lead Scarborough to the team title. Earlier in the season, he posted the fifth all-time best mark in New England in the pole vault (15-9).

Coach of the Year

Ted Hutch, York: Hutch led the Wildcats past Foxcroft Academy, 56-44, at the Class B state meet for an unexpected championship – York’s fourth title in five years.