"I'm just trying to enjoy it as much as I can, not only because it's track, but you can't go back to it once you get to college. I'm trying to leave a good stamp on high school."
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By Denise Spann -- MileSplit Correspondent
The ability to be good at more than one thing is a talent within itself, but to be good enough to compete in 10 different events is an ability very few have.
Centerville High School senior Yariel Soto is one such talent.
When he's not being a master chef in the kitchen, this decathlete--the No. 1 returner in the multis this outdoor season--puts his hands to work with wood working and ceramics, then creates grandfather clocks and wooden chests from scratch before he ultimately sends them back home to his family in Puerto Rico.
"Those are huge hobbies of mine, I love it," Soto said of his work with his hands. "I started in high school because we had a wood shop program and I (have) loved it ever since."
This past week, Soto was back in Puerto Rico training for his final outdoor season in high school.
Last season, he was one of two athletes to break the New Balance Nationals Outdoor decathlon record of 7,009 points, last set by Ayden Owens in 2016, with a total of 7,025 points, earning him a career PR. Many expected Soto to transition easily to the indoor season, where he could have picked up his first national title in the pentathlon at New Balance Nationals Indoor.
But while all eyes were on Soto to compete in the championship, his coaches made the last-minute decision to scratch in the multis and instead finish out with efforts in the long jump and pole vault.
"We had other opportunities that popped up to compete here in Puerto Rico," Soto said of his plan. "It would've been three weekends of back-to-back traveling for competition. So we decided not to do the pentathlon so that it wouldn't be too much, and I could focus on my training as opposed to trying to specialize."
Soto placed second in the Emerging Elite pole vault, with a vault of 15-3.75, and then finished 19th in the championship long jump with a mark of 22-8.5.
Even though the performances weren't ideal for the Tennessee signee, he acknowledged the marks were the best attempts of his season and reminded himself of the bigger picture.
"I was happy with the competition at New Balance," he said. "I had my best series of jumps of all indoor season in pole vault and long jump was super fun, and it was also my best series of jumps. It was good to end the indoor season on that note even though I didn't do any crazy performances or anything. But I guess I wasn't ready to go as big as I wanted to."
Soto knows his strongest events are the 400m, pole vault and long jump--he was ninth in the country to finish the 2018 season in the latter event. So a main focus heading into outdoor season was to improve his technique in the pole vault.
Working on it all indoor season, the U20 Pan American Combined Events Cup champion had to learn to stay patient. In 2019, he's aiming for Ohio's state record of 17 feet, 2 inches.
"Indoor this year has been kind of rough because in pole vault we took three steps back with relearning it all," he said. "We had to really focus on the important positioning. I'm trying to go for that state record in pole vault and there'd be no way I could do it if I didn't hit the right positions. It was harder mentally more than anything, it was all about learning to be patient and trusting the process."
But in the decathlon, you're the sum of all of your parts. And Soto knows he still has a few pegs to improve in order to reach the heights of others ahead of him.
Last season, Germantown Academy (PA) graduate Kyle Garland and fellow Puerto Rican, Ayden Owens, both surpassed 7,400-points with the high school implements. Garland event went a step further, scoring 7,562 points with the 16-pound shot put at USA Juniors--fifth all-time in that department.
Those two set the bar. So Soto said his goals for the 2019 season is not only outscore them, but to make history.
"I have it very clear in my head, but I don't know if I want to say any numbers yet or anything," he said. "I want to break the New Balance Nationals Outdoor record again--both of us broke it last year--but obviously I got second. I want to be the outdoor champion in the decathlon, but with about a thousand points more."
Yes, 1,000 points.
And that's just a ball park.
The national record in the high school decathlon is 8,035 points, set by Gunnar Nixon in 2011 at The Great Southwest Classic.
In order to make this happen, it's going to call for personal bests across the board, starting with his weaker events, the shot put and hurdles. Earlier this indoor season Soto gained a new PR in the shot put (42-5), which could be 200 to 300 additional points. But he also wants to drop his 110 meter hurdle time--at the 39-inch height--from 15.85 seconds to around 14.30, which could give him 200 more points.
What's going to lead the charge for this milestone to happen is Soto's pole vault. Jumping over 17-feet would be a huge grab towards his 1,000-point improvement.
Soto and his coaches have seen glimpses of their hard work making appearances in practice.
"Right now, we have all the pieces it just a matter of connecting them," he said. "I've had little glimpses of it, and it gives me goosebumps because in training and at meets sometimes we've had glimpses of it and I'm just getting thrown in the air when I connect things."
Soto knows the task is a big one, but he's ready for the challenge.
"I've been low key about it because it's a big thing to say but, it's definitely doable," he said. "My coaches have been very honest with me. But obviously we don't live by those numbers or anything. We don't look at the numbers often, we just look at them in the beginning of the year and the middle, just to be realistic with things."
No matter the outcome of his outdoor season, Soto will go down as one of the best decathletes in Ohio's history, and maybe even nationally.
It hasn't set in just yet, that his high school career is coming to an end.
"I'm just trying to enjoy it as much as I can, not only because it's track, but you can't go back to it once you get to college," he said. "I'm trying to leave a good stamp on high school. I've been enjoying it and I'm excited as it's kind of coming to an end. I'm also ready for that next chapter at Tennessee."
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You can contact MileSplit Correspondent Denise Spann at @dmichelleee_