James McNaney is one step away from reaching the 2014 USATF National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships. Well, actually a vault away.

The junior-to-be at Pine Tree High School will compete in the regional meet Saturday in San Marcos. A Top 5 finish in the pole vault will send him to the national meet July 21-27 in Humble.

“I feel confident that I will qualify for the Junior Olympics,” McNaney said. “I know I will be facing some good competition. I’ve done research on a few of the competitors, and they’re jumping my height or higher, so I know I have to bring my best.”

McNaney qualified for this event with a height of 14-6, but his personal best is 15-0.

Pine Tree track and field coach Mike Darby said McNaney was the district champion in eighth grade with a height of 12-0. But early in his freshman season, McNaney broke his arm, which forced him to miss the rest of the year.

McNaney returned to full strength as a sophomore and took first place in District 14-4A with his best height of 15-0.

“That’s a pretty good improvement,” Darby said. “He’s a hard worker, and he’s focused. I’d venture to say he’s the best kid I’ve coached. He has the intensity, the drive and the commitment. He has it all.”

McNaney, who also runs cross country, said he used to play baseball, football and basketball. He said he decided to try pole vaulting in the seventh grade because “it looked challenging.”

McNaney has accepted the challenge and said he hopes this experience during the summer helps him improve and increase his chances to reach the state track and field meet next season.

“This is a great opportunity for me,” he said. “Being in the bigger areas against some of the better vaulters in the state is a good chance for me to push forward and get better each meet.”

“It gives him a break from the summer training, and it gives him a chance to compete against some of the best in the state and experience the sport at a higher level,” Darby said.

McNaney said his goal is to continue his pole vaulting career after high school.

“I’m hoping I’m good enough that colleges will want me,” he said.

If he continues to improve at the rate he has so far, it’s a safe bet that there will be some college programs jumping at the chance to sign McNaney in two years.

(Follow Brandon Ogden on Twitter: @BrandonOSports)