Zach Stump left Liberty High School upon graduation in 2018 with plans to attend University of South Carolina and join the track and field team as a walk-on.
A few months into college, Stump felt somewhat lost and far from home, so the former state champion pole vaulter started looking at ways to make a return. He left South Carolina and landed at Salisbury, where he faced quite the greeting last season.
The Sea Gulls’ indoor track team was in the field at the George Mason Patriot Games on Jan. 26, 2019. Stump hadn’t competed in about eight months.
“It was pretty intimidating ... that first week I came back I had a meet,” Stump said. “It was literally get back on campus, get settled with the team, and a meet on Saturday. Luckily the coach was really good about it. He was like, ‘Hey, whatever happens, happens. Just go jump, just go have fun.’ And so that’s what we did.”
Stump cleared 13 feet, 9.25 inches that day, good for fourth place.
After four Times first-team all-county selections between indoor and outdoor track, and a state title (14 feet) in his junior season, Stump said he started filling his pole-vaulting void.
“Coming off not exactly my best shape, and being able to jump roughly what i jumped in high school was definitely very nice,” he said. “As that year continued, I just kept jumping higher bars and getting in better shape. And luckily with this year, everything was constant. I had summer training, fall training, winter training. That way it was a nice, smooth transition into this year.”
This year has been sensational for Stump so far — the sophomore has three Capital Athletic Conference Athlete of the Week honors this winter, and each time he set a new Salisbury indoor pole vault record. Stump got to 14-9 on Dec. 7 at University of Maryland Eastern Shore, reached 14-11.5 at the Patriot Games a few weeks ago, and hit 15-1.5 on Feb. 1 at the Eastern Shore Combine at UMES.
That height is the best in the CAC, and it’s 17th in the country for Division III according to results on the Track & Field Results Reporting System website.
And all of this after Stump set an outdoor school record in April of 2019 by clearing 15-1, breaking the old mark set in 2004, then reached 15-7 in May to eclipse his own record once more. Stump earned a spot on the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association all-region team last spring, but just missed taking part in the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
“It has been a nice story,” said longtime Salisbury track coach Jim Jones, who kept tabs on Stump while he was at Liberty. “He didn’t really do much down there at South Carolina, when that opportunity closed for him he was really kind of down and disappointed. He worked his way into shape and had a great finish to the year. He has put in a lot of good work in the fall, was able to be with us for a full training. He’s picking up where he left off.”
The Sea Gulls’ next meet is set for Sunday at Christopher Newport University before the conference championships Feb. 21-22. Jones said he’s hoping for Stump to stay ahead of his record-breaking pace, perhaps earning more CAC honors. But Stump said he’s focused on seeing improvement no matter the result.
That mindset just might lead the former Lions standout to a spot at the Indoor Track & Field Championships, March 13-14 in North Carolina, and he’ll strive to avenge last spring’s miss by qualifying for the 2020 outdoor nationals in Rochester, New York.
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“Keep jumping higher,” Stump said when asked what his goals were for the rest of this year. “It’s honestly been insane that I’m 3-for-3 on school records, athletes of the week. I honestly don’t know what to say about it. I just wasn’t expecting this at all. I’ve always got to jump higher. That’s what the sport is about.”