Zachary Stump has been setting Salisbury University records — and breaking them — throughout the 2019-20 outdoor track and field season.
But most teenagers don’t have a burning desire to pole vault. Stump mostly played team sports, but decided they might not be a good fit for him at the high school level.
“I was playing all contact sports in middle school, but I was going into high school at five foot, 120 pounds,” Stump said. “I was a bit too small to be playing contact sports.”
After some consideration, he decided to try out cross country and track and field.
When he went to try out, though, he was reminded of a memory from his earlier years.
“A long time ago, back in elementary and middle school, I used to go out in the woods behind my house with one of my neighbors, and there was a pretty big stream,” Stump said. “So just having fun, we would take big, long sticks and jump across the stream with them.
"When I got to track, I realized that jumping with big sticks is actually an event, so I decided to try it out, and I’ve loved it ever since.”
This move has paid off for both Stump and Salisbury, but Stump’s collegiate career did not begin in the maroon and gold.
When Stump graduated from Liberty High School, he chose the University of South Carolina and hoped to walk-on for the track and field team.
Stump, a former state champion with a jump of 14 feet, made the choice after a few months to return home and attend a school closer to home: Salisbury. He joined the track and field team, and after arriving on campus, was quickly faced with an indoor meet.
At the event, despite having almost a year off from track and field, Stump landed at 13 feet, 9.25 inches.
He nearly reached his peak from high school despite being away from jumping for nearly a year.
Salisbury Track and Field Head Coach Jim Jones said he knew Stump had the potential to do something great from his first time on the SU track.
“Right away, the first day of practice, we could tell there was something special that was gonna happen,” Jones said.
As the season went on, Stump continued to improve and get more comfortable with the pole in his hands.
By the end of the year, Stump said he was feeling more confident, but eager to get a full offseason of preparation under his belt before his first full season as a Sea Gull.
“This season, it’s been really nice to actually hit the ground running, have preseason conditioning under my belt, winter break training under my belt, everything like that,” Stump said. “It’s been a lot of fun. We have a great team atmosphere, and it’s been fun to go out there and jump high.”
This transition from getting used to pole vaulting again to breaking school records took time. There were issues of form, technique and fitness that needed to be addressed.
Jones said clearing these hurdles has vaulted Stump into the success he has had this season.
“It’s like riding a bicycle,” Jones said. “He was a little rusty, but as he got in better shape and worked on his technique. Toward the end of the year, he really started to blossom.”
At the conclusion of the 2018-19 outdoor season, Stump finished just short of qualifying for the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
This season, he has set the indoor school record three times, breaking the Capital Athletic Conference pole vault record at 15 feet, 1.5 inch at the Eastern Shore Combine at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
This new record also sits at 16th in all of Division III.
In each of his record-setting performances, Stump was named the CAC Field Athlete of the Week. While he said the awards are always nice, Stump has bigger goals in mind as the year continues.
“The big goal would be to jump 16 feet in indoor,” Stump said. “That’d be really impressive if I could do that … obviously to keep breaking the school record, keep setting new PRs … and if I could make nationals, that would be incredible.”
Jones said Stump has a legitimate shot at the big stage if he continues what he’s been able to do this season, both indoors and outdoors.
Jones also noted the growth he has seen from Stump during this indoor season and the potential for an even stronger campaign outdoors when March rolls around.
“I mean, he’s now only about six inches away from what he jumped outdoors last year,” Jones said. “So, if he can surpass that indoors, who knows what he can do outdoors?”
Reaching the championship in either the indoor or outdoor seasons would be a significant accomplishment for both Stump and the Salisbury track and field team, which has seen its fair share of talented athletes over the years.
With a chance to reach the heights Stump failed to last season, Jones said this would be another important moment in the track and field program’s history.
“It would mean a lot,” Jones said. “I feel I could take him and a few others on our team to any meet in the country … and they would compete very, very well. When you get to that level, that’s something really special.”
By NICK LEWIS
Featured photo: Sports Information image.