Matt Schwartz is ready for the competition of his life.
Schwartz, a senior at Burroughs High, has endured a long season and has enjoyed his share of success in the boys' pole vault. That success has paid off in the form of a spot in the 96th annual CIF State Track and Field Championships.
However, when Schwartz takes part in the meet Friday at 6 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Clovis, he will be competing in what many believe will be the most talented group of pole vaulters to ever vie for the state championship.
"They have said that this is the hardest competition for pole vaulters in California state history," said Schwartz, who set a personal-best 15-foot-6 vault this season. "It's really going to be tough to go against those guys, but it's also kind of cool to be in the middle of it. There is such good competition that these guys make me want to do better. And who knows, maybe at the state meet I will get into it and give them a run for their money."
Schwartz will be joined by two area vaulters, brothers Barrett and Gareth Weiss, both juniors, from Flintridge Prep.
On the official state meet performance list, the pole vault is stacked with talented athletes who have enjoyed remarkable seasons. There are four vaulters who have hit 16-0 or better. Leading the way with a 16-7 is senior Ryan Pust of Golden Valley from the San Joaquin Section. He is followed by two athletes at 16-2 in senior Luigi Colella of Thousand Oaks and senior Jake David of Ventura.
But those are only marks for athletes from qualifying meets, such as the Masters Meet or respective sectional finals. Some of those same vaulters have gone over 17-0.
Mike McHorney has been the Burroughs pole vault coach for more than 25 years. In addition, he was a vaulter at the school and has seen the progression of the event in the state meet for decades. He said he has never seen the heights being achieved in the sport this season.
"This is really a tough year as far as how high the guys have been going," McHorney said. "I've never seen it before that just to qualify that you have to do 15-2. I've seen it in some years, and not too long ago, that you would only need 12-9 to get to the finals. Matt's going to have to step it up for him to make it through."
Schwartz will take part in the preliminaries Friday evening. If he secures one of the top nine, he will advance to the finals on Saturday.
Said Burroughs Coach John Peebles: "When you have two guys who have gone over 17-0, another one at 16-9 and another one at 16-7, you know the competition is going to be very tough. This is definitely one of the best years it's ever been for the sport in the state."
Schwartz qualified for state competition by hitting the at-large mark of 15-2 at last Friday's CIF Southern Section Track and Field Masters Meet at Cerritos College.
Schwartz had no issues moving past the opening heights of 14-2 and 14-8, before hitting the bar on his first attempt at 15-2. The miss did not derail Schwartz, who came back and clinched what turned out to be the final spot to state when he flew over the bar at 15-2.
"I just have to try and make it to that final day Saturday," said the Cal-Berkeley-bound Schwartz. "Lately, I haven't had a PR in the last few meets, so I've just been waiting for that big day and I hope one of these days is it. I really want to get over 16-0 and, who knows, maybe even go to that first spot.
"For any track and field athlete, or for any athlete in high school for that matter, the ultimate goal is to make it to the state level. It's just unreal that I have this opportunity and I am just so grateful to have made it this far."
Schwartz is the first Burroughs athlete to advance to the state meet since Western Nelson in the boys' 3,200 meters in 2009. Schwartz is the third pole vaulter from Burroughs to qualify for state competition. The first to make it was Ron Morris, who won a state title in 1953 with a 13-0 effort. Morris, who went on to win the silver medal in the 1960 Rome Summer Olympics, remains the Indians' lone state track and field champion in any event.
The other athlete was Esa Sallinen, who won the CIF Southern Section Division I title with a 15-0 effort and a Masters Meet championship with a 16-0 in 1994 before making his way to state.
"Both of those guys were just amazing athletes and to be just the third to make it means a lot to me," Schwartz said.
Heading into the state meet, Schwartz sits at No. 3 on the Burroughs all-time vaulting list, trailing Sallinen, who is first with a 16-43/4 mark in 1994 and second-place Jon Switzer, who reached 15-7 in 1976.
"I still think I have some left in me, so hopefully I can still get up there," Schwartz said. "I know I'm going to give it my all."