DARKE COUNTY – Two individuals who qualified for the Ohio High School Athletic Association state track and field meet are this week’s Daily Advocate athletes of the week.
This week’s Daily Advocate athletes of the week are Ansonia girls track and field athlete Aliya Barga and Greenville boys track and field athlete AJ Frens.
Frens leads all Darke County pole vaulters with a personal-best mark of 15 feet 8 inches this season. He achieved that during last weekend’s regional meet at Welcome Stadium in Dayton, winning the regional championship.
He’s excelled this year despite an injury that almost derailed his season.
“It’s been kind of amazing to tell you the truth just because when he broke a pole the very first meet of the outdoor season it severed his hand pretty good,” Greenville pole vaulting coach Micah Coblentz said. “He ended up with 16 stitches. When I saw that I thought his senior year might be done.
“He never let it get him down. He was always there at practice supporting his other teammates, Ryan (Trick) and Matt (Hounshell), and joking around.”
Frens surprised his coach by returning to competition just three weeks after his injury.
“I was just very impressed with how he handled it and how he took it in stride,” Coblentz said. “He bounced right back faster than I thought he would. He’s a great example for how all coaches would want their athletes to be. He listens, he doesn’t question, and he works hard at whatever you ask him to do.”
Frens, who is committed to compete in college for Central Michigan University, is a three-time state qualifier in the pole vault. As a freshman he finished fifth in the state in the Division I competition.
“It’s been a lot of fun watching him figure things out,” Coblentz said. “He’s one that he’s got all the tools. He’s nice and tall. He’s got a strong run coming down the runway. For how tall he is he’s pretty agile.”
Along with being one of the best in Ohio, the Greenville senior has proven himself to be one of the best vaulters in the nation. In March Frens competed in the New Balance Nationals Indoor track and field meet and finished 18th nationally in the pole vault.
Coblentz said Frens’ family has been very supportive and helped him reach his potential. The Greenville coach said he’s appreciative of what a great person and athlete Frens’ parents raised.
“You’re not going to find much better of an example than what AJ can be as far as just character and being a great kid,” Coblentz said. “I’ve been just blessed to coach him.”
Barga advanced to the OHSAA state meet for the first time this year in the girls high jump. She cleared a personal-best mark of 5 feet 4 inches at last week’s regional meet to qualify for state.
“Early in the season I don’t think she expected as much out of herself,” Ansonia girls track and field coach Craig Riethman said. “When she started to win some smaller events her confidence grew and it kind of lit a fire under her.”
Barga’s jump of 5 feet 4 inches is the best among Darke County girls in the high jump this year.
“Her work ethic and her consistency has gotten better with how she’s attacking the bar and really, really trying to get vertical,” Riethman said.
“It was really cool to see Aliya’s belief in herself grow throughout the season. She went from hoping to get to regionals at the beginning the season to expecting to get on the podium at the state meet. She keeps putting herself in situations that allow her to stretch her belief, and I’m proud of her for taking full advantage of every opportunity.”
Along with being a great high jumper, the Ansonia junior has excelled in the long jump and as a member of the Lady Tigers’ 4×100 meter relay and 4×200 meter relay teams.
She also won the triple jump during a three-team meet at Greenville even though it was the first time she ever competed in that event.
“When she’s relaxed she allows her natural athletic ability to come through,” Riethman said.
Along with being a hard worker, Barga is very coachable and always wants to understand how she can become a better competitor. She also has the drive to improve herself with or without external motivation.
“I think she is always trying to get a better mark than she did the previous time,” Riethman said.
With another year of high school ahead of her, Riethman expects Barga to only get better.
“I still don’t think she’s peaked,” he said.