Before Zach Stump emerged as the county’s top performer in pole vault, he did what is almost never recommended for someone involved in such a technical track and field event.
He ran cross country.
Stump, a senior, said he had no idea what he wanted to do sports-wise when he came to Liberty as a freshman. He tried football, wrestling, and lacrosse in middle school but the physicality of those sports scared the then 5-foot Stump. He settled on cross country and track and dabbled in a few distance events that first year.
It wasn’t until a friend suggested taking a try at pole vaulting that Stump flourished. He soon met Braedan Balch, the county’s outdoor pole vault champ in 2017, and they attended a camp with him at VaultworX in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania that summer.
One of the vaulting coaches at the facility told Stump that cross country and pole vaulting did not mix. Stump relays this same advice to athletes that express interest in vaulting.
“The biggest thing is that running cross country was kind of a set back because my running form was in distance and I had to work on making my runs better and better and stronger and stronger so I could keep getting faster,” Stump said. “It’s the one thing my coach tells me to this day, he jokes and brings up past videos where I don’t look like the same vaulter.”
A lot of repetition and training helped Stump perfect his form to become the athlete he is. When he was a sophomore, he cleared 9-9 at an invitational during the indoor season. He closed out the season with a sixth-place finish at the state meet after clearing 12 feet.
He took second in the county, fourth in the 2A West, and 10th in the state in outdoor that year and continued to get better.
As a junior in 2017, Stump cleared 14 feet, a personal record, at the 2A state meet for his first state title.
He returns this spring season as Carroll County’s lone reigning individual outdoor state champion.
“It’s been amazing to look how he started to where he is now,” Lions co-coach Amanda Milewski said. “On the flip side, when I watch him in practice, you see why he’s so successful. You get to see both sides and it’s amazing that he does this and has improved that much in a relatively short span of time. It’s really amazing and I expect it because of how hard he works, the 14 feet is just a testament to his work ethic.”
Milewski said Stump trains at VaultworX at least three times a week, similar to what he did with Balch and Century’s Kyle Bryant, last season’s indoor pole vault state champion and Times Boys Indoor Track Athlete of the Year. Stump referred to Bryant and Balch as two close friends who all vaulted well, as the three would often finish close in height during championship season.
Stump cleared 13-0 for the indoor county title this year. Patrick Tunkel, a South Carroll sophomore, vaulted 12-6 for second place, followed by Century’s James Yankowski (12 feet) and Jimmy Wiley (11 feet).
“Them graduating kind of blessed me as the top man in the county with none really below me,” Stump said. “Patrick Tunkel is a very talented athlete and has a bright future ahead of him. He stepped up, along with Century’s other vaulters. It definitely changed the dynamic where I was used to being the young one with the two seniors ahead of me, but it all changed to me being the senior and everyone else below me.”
Pole vault is a friendly atmosphere, Stump added, and he feels especially close to the vaulters from Century and South Carroll considering how close the three schools are in proximity to one another.
“He obviously sets a high standard for himself and we’d love to see him repeat as a state champ,” Milewski said. “He’s an extremely hard worker and certainly deserving of the honor. I don’t know anyone who works as hard as he does. Not only is he a state champion pole vaulter, he’s one of the fastest 100-meter runners in the county — he really is a talented athlete.”