Burroughs High's Matt Schwartz sets different standard

Fifteen feet, nine inches.

It’s the statistic most closely associated with Burroughs High senior Matt Schwartz.

The Indians pole vaulter advanced to the final day of the 96th annual CIF State Track and Field Finals in Clovis in early June because he hit a distance of 15-9.

Schwartz set a new personal record and broke a month-and-a-half long stalemate thanks to 15-9, while simultaneously replacing an unwelcome bout of frustration with a cocktail of relief, unabashed joy and satisfaction.

“When I landed on that mat, it was crazy,” Schwartz said of the moment right after he cleared the bar at 15-9 at Buchanan High. “Everything disappeared and I didn’t remember any of my faults, just making it. It was amazing and I went a little nuts because I couldn’t believe it.”

While such an accomplishment may be enough alone to merit Schwartz selection as the 2014 All-Area Boys’ Track and Field Athlete of the Year as selected by the sportswriters of the Burbank Leader, Glendale News-Press and La Cañada Valley Sun, there’s so much more to the UC Berkeley-bound senior than just 15-9.

For starters, the No. 17 is also on Schwartz’ resume.

That’s how long it had been since the Burroughs boys’ track team had won a league championship heading into the 2014 campaign.

That streak stood until April 23, when the Indians bested city rival Burbank, 79-57, at Memorial Field to cap a 7-0 league record, which delivered the team its first-ever Pacific League crown and first title since the Foothill League days.

“Matt obviously played a huge role in that win and that’s one of the more memorable efforts this year,” said Burroughs Coach John Peebles, the 2014 All-Area Boys’ Track and Field Coach of the Year. “We couldn’t have won without him.”

Schwartz, a multi-talented athlete who endured two concussions playing football his sophomore year, showed off his versatility in competing in four events, with wins in the pole vault (15), high jump (5-10) and long jump (20-0) and a runner-up, personal-record effort in the shot put (40-9), which accounted for 18 points.

“I’m used to bouncing around between events during the league season and to do whatever was needed,” Schwartz said. “I think what made me proudest was how the young guys stepped up. This is a team of juniors and one of our top scorers was a sophomore.

“They stepped up and helped win this title. It was an amazing team and the next couple of years look bright.”

Another digit in Schwartz’ list of accomplishments is two, as in the number of Pacific League individual championships the competitor captured at the league finals at Arcadia High on May 9.

Schwartz set a new league meet record, snapping the mark of 15-0 1/2 set by Rosemead’s Dennis Gingrich in 1969, by vaulting to a title-securing distance of 15-1.

While Schwartz frustratingly missed his three attempts at 15-6, his then personal-best mark, he had little time to pout.

Immediately after faulting on his last try, Schwartz raced cross-field and further etched his name into school lore when he took his one and only leap and the last attempt for anybody during the league’s high jump final and won the event with a mark of 6 feet, much to the amazement and chagrin of the rest of the field, which had been participating for more than an hour.

“I didn’t have time to think or practice,” said Schwartz, who set a personal record and area-best mark for this year. “I just jumped in my only try and I was able to get a good attempt.”

Another stat that weighed somewhat heavily on Schwartz was the No. 3 or third.

That’s where Schwartz ranked on the Burroughs all-time pole vault list after reaching 15-6 on the last day of the Mt. San Antonio College Relays on April 19 in winning and setting a new record in the seeded event.

The distance surpassed that of Steve Morris, who owned the Burroughs’ No. 3 spot with a mark of 14-8 set in 1967, but was short of Jon Switzer’s No. 2 distance of 15-7 accomplished in 1976.

Schwartz’ height did, however, highlight what had been a run of four straight personal-record efforts, which began with a vault of 14-8 at the Mt. Carmel Track Invitational on March 29 and extended to the Arcadia Invitational (15 feet), the league meet versus Hoover and Arcadia (15-1) and into Mt. SAC.

“Pole vault is a bit of a strange event, but if things click, you could go up two feet in one meet,” said Burroughs vault coach Mike McHorney, a bamboo pole vaulter with Burroughs and Glendale Community College in the early 1960s. “That Mt. SAC meet was sort of his breakout meet. That helped a lot with confidence because once you make a distance in pole vault, you could do it again.”

Success at Mt. SAC also brought Schwartz interest from Berkeley and made the Golden Bears the senior’s No. 1 consideration over Boston University.

“I had been talking with Berkeley before, but I wasn’t up to their standards,” Schwartz said. “Then I get 15-6 and that got their interest and they made me an offer.”

New heights at Mt. SAC, though, were immediately followed by a plateau as Schwartz was unable to match 15-6 over the next few competitions, including when the senior took fourth (15-3) at the Division I champions at Cerritos College on May 24.

The following week at the CIF Southern Section Masters Meet, Schwartz didn’t exactly produce the breakthrough he had been looking for.

Despite becoming the first city athlete to earn advancement to the CIF State Meet since 2010 by hitting a state at-large mark of 15-2, which was good for eighth, 15-6 was beginning to look more and more unreachable.

“I always thought that him not being able to get back to 15-6 was deceptive,” McHorney said, “and that’s because at CIF, they’re not going by our six-inch increments. He’d hit 15-3 at one meet and then the bar would be raised to 15-9. There wasn’t a 15-6 to reach.”

The same standard held true at the first day of preliminaries at state on June 6.

Schwartz cruised through the first three heights, missing only once en route to getting to 15-3.

Again, though, Schwartz had his momentum stopped as he was short on two tries at 15-9.

Then, with the season on the line and the noise of bustling stadium in the background, Schwartz made history in clearing 15-9 on his third and last try, which advanced him into Saturday’s finals while also leap-frogging over Switzer for second place all-time, trailing only Esa Sallinen (16-4 3/4).

“I don’t want to say that validated my season,” Schwartz said. “I will say that it made it feel like all the hard work paid off.”

The very next day, Schwartz finished seventh at state with a mark of 15-6 1/4 in what was perhaps the deepest field in state history.

“To have competed in such a group was an honor,” Schwartz said.

Perhaps one last number to chew on is 19.

That’s the number of inches in which Schwartz blasted his personal record of 14-2 heading into his senior season.

“What Matt did isn’t surprising,” said junior teammate Kent Troung. “He and I put in a lot of work this summer and he really wanted to improve.”

During the offseason, Schwartz first grasped his potential when he finished tied for 23rd at the Reno Pole Vault Summit on Jan. 18 with a then eight-inch improvement mark of 14-10.

“That was my first meet after the summer workouts and training with Kent,” Schwartz said. “It was such a big thing for pole vaulters and to get to 14-10, I knew I was doing the right thing. That result just kept me driven.”

As Schwartz wrapped up an abbreviated practice at Memorial Field, the senior grabbed his gear and walked out of the stadium with a message.

“Look out for this guy next year,” Schwartz said of Troung. “He could do something big.”

Troung then quipped, “You think 16 feet?”

To which Schwartz replied, “get to 15-9 first,” before closing the stadium gate behind him.


Follow Andrew J. Campa on Twitter: @campadresports.

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