Feature Friday: Zuckerman Soars To New Heights In The Vault

Ever since Max Zuckerman cleared 15-0 to place second in the pole vault as a sophomore at the 2020 State Group 2 Indoor Championships, he's been aiming to clear bigger heights.

After over a year of intense training and pushing himself, Zuckerman finally saw all that hard work pay off when he got on bigger pole for the first time this past Tuesday in a dual meet at Westwood, and soared over the bar at 15-6 on his second attempt.

Zuckerman, a junior at Pascack Hills, leaped off the mat after he landed and sprinted over to his coach a hug as the two celebrated. Zuckerman's jump vaulted to him No. 1 in the state this season, and into a tie for No. 2 in Bergen County outdoor history with Tyler Hrbek of Old Tappan, who cleared 15-6 at the 2018 East Coast Relays.

The only vaulter in Bergen County history to go higher than Zuckerman is his former teammate, Liam Landau, who made a county outdoor record 15-7.50 to win the 2018 State Group 2 title.

NJ MileSplit recently caught up with Zuckerman, who talked about how much Landau inspired him to follow in his footsteps, his quest to win a Meet of Champions title, his pursuit of the county record and a whole lot more.

So kick back and enjoy our latest installment of Feature Friday as we shine the spotlight on Pascack Hills junior Max Zuckerman, who has the Bergen County pole vault record and a whole lot more in his cross hairs!

Max Zuckerman Interview

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                                      NJM:  Can you describe just how awesome it felt to finally get over 15-6. I know it's something you've been waiting a long time for? To finally get over 15-6 felt great.

                                      It has been a year of hard work and training but it finally paid off. This wasn't my main goal I had for the season, but it is a milestone that is finally behind me.

                                      What specifically do you feel was the difference for you to get over the bar at 15-6? Bigger pole? Something technical in your approach or in the air?

                                      During this jump, I got on my new pole for the first time in competition. It's a bigger pole as well as a heavier pole. I think this is part of the reason for the clearance. The jump wasn't the greatest form wise, but the pole was enough to carry me over the bar.

                                      Your 15-6 ties you for No. 2 in Bergen County history behind your old teammate, Liam Landau, who went 15-7.50 a few years ago. What are your thoughts on trying to break that school and county record? How much do you think about that, and how motivated are you by that record, which you are really close to?

                                      Everyday. I think about the record and breaking it everyday. It's my main motivation for my short term goals at the moment and I think clearing 15-6 is helping me realize that breaking the county record is more than doable.

                                      What do you think the key is for you to get over 16-0 and even higher, and what is your biggest goal for the rest of this season?

                                      think the key to getting over 16 is going to come down to finding the right pole that I'm not blowing through as well as fixing my top end form. My main focus of my jump right now is the top and turning a little earlier in order for me get better and higher hip height in the future. I think that will be the key to getting 16 feet. As for my goal of the season, I want to place 1st at New Jersey State Meet of Champions.

                                      After you made the 15-6, did you take the bar to 15-8 to try to break the county record or to 16-0? What were your attempts like after the 15-6? You get close to getting over?

                                      After I made 15-6, I went right to 16. My attempts at 16 were pretty good, it just came down to turning a little to late and knocking the bar off on the way up. How awesome does it feel to just be back vaulting outdoors again after having to miss the whole outdoor season last year? It's been two years since I vaulted outdoors, and I forgot how much I love it. It's great to be back and I look forward to the rest of the season.

                                      I know there are some other great vaulters in the state, like McSweeney who has made 15-9, but you have a great shot at winning the Meet of Champs title this season? What would that mean to you, Max?

                                      I think winning Meet of Champions would be amazing. I love the competition of having another vaulter of similar skill to compete against, and ever since indoor of last year, I've had my eyes set on winning Meet of Champions. It is one of my major goals in pole vaulting.

                                      I see that you did some vaulting over the winter at the Flying Circus meets? Is that where you go to workout a lot? If so, how long have you been going there to work on your vaulting?

                                      I started going to the Hudson Valley Flying Circus (The Barn) at the end of my freshman year back in 2019. Ever since then, I have worked with the coaches up there to improve and compete as well.

                                      You really made a big jump in your PR from 11-6 as a freshman to 15-0 as a sophomore. What was the biggest difference that enabled you to improve by more than three feet?

                                      I think the thing that enabled me to improve was the help of the coaches at The Barn as well as my high school coach and their constant encouragement and support. I trained at the barn up to 3 times a week for almost 6 months and I think the constant practice and training helped me the most. Consistency and believing in yourself are two major aspects of pole vault that helped me improve greatly.

                                      What do you consider your greatest strength as a vaulter?

                                      I think my greatest strength as a vaulter is being able to look at my jumps and know 90% of the time what I need to do to either improve or make the next height that I'm attempting to clear.

                                      When is your next meet and how high are you hoping to clear?

                                      My next meet is on Tuesday the 18th, and I'm hoping to clear 15-8

                                      Can you tell me how, when and why you first got involved in track and field?

                                      I first got involved in track spring of my freshman year. I always planned to run track because I loved to run.

                                      How about vaulting? How did that start, and what were your thoughts about it when you first started vaulting? Did you love it right away?

                                      I started off as only a sprinter, but my freshman year, Liam Landau was a senior. The previous season, he had won Meet of Champions (Indoor in 2019), and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to learn a cool event from the best athlete in the state. As soon as I started, I was skeptical about it, but as soon as I competed for the first time and cleared my first bar (7-6), I was hooked, and have been ever since.

                                      When would you say you had your first huge breakthrough moment when you realized you could be a great vaulter?

                                      I don't think I realized the potential until my first meet in indoor of 2020, when I cleared 14-3. I think my coaches and family realized it before me, but that was the moment my eyes opened.

                                      What do you love the most about being a vaulter?

                                      The thing I love most about being a vaulter is the community of vaulters that exists in the state. Of any event, I would easily say that pole vault creates the most unique and tight knit group of athletes. I love competing with, rather than against other athletes. It's a great feeling of having a whole community of people rooting for each other to improve and get better.

                                      I can't get enough of watching Mondo vault! Who is your favorite college/pro vaulter to watch and why? And what have you learned from watching them?

                                      My favorite vaulter to watch is Sam Kendricks, and I have learned a lot about the technique of the jump from watching hundreds of his jumps and competitions.

                                      What type of things do you like to do when you're not vaulting or doing schoolwork? Have any hobbies or are you involved in any other sports or clubs/activities at school?

                                      I really enjoy playing chess, even though I'm not the greatest in the world, I love the strategy behind it.