July 30, 2014

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A journey of jumps for Zachary Koncki

Courtesy UMass Athletics

Courtesy UMass Athletics

Zachary Koncki wanted to be a javelin thrower.

He wasn’t a long jumper and he didn’t know how his full potential. He didn’t even get on the runway for the event until the end of his senior year of high school. When he did, however, he won a championship.

“Freshman year [of high school], I did track because I wanted to be a javelin thrower,” said Koncki. “Once I realized I wasn’t really good at that, my coach wanted me to try hurdles and triple jump.”

It wasn’t a bad idea for young Koncki to try triple jump as he would go on to set a Northampton High School record in the event and win a Division III state championship. He hopped, skipped, and jumped to 44-08.00 at the outdoor championship, but what had already surprised everyone in his junior year of high school was his indoor performance in the long jump.

“Indoor, I did long [jump] for two meets,” said Koncki. “[One] was the Division III state meet and I won with a 22. That was the only time in high school I did long jump.”

The next step for the 6-foot-5 Northampton native was the collegiate level. Staying close to home, Koncki enrolled at UMass, where he intended to compete in the triple jump, an event he “had more faith in”.

However, Koncki and the triple jump were not meant to be. In his first season of outdoor track, he leapt to 22-09.75 at its conclusion. His improvements in the long jump far exceeded his progress in the triple, but he was still a long way off of even being within striking distance of a record.

Then assistant coach David Jackson joined the program. Koncki firmly believes that a pivotal role in his development as a long jumper came when Jackson took over the field events.

“When Jackson came here, I realized there was so much work I had to do,” said Koncki. “I didn’t know how to land, I didn’t know how to do a run-through properly, I didn’t know how to do a penultimate, the short step to get more height off the board. [With] the coaching here, I don’t know if I would have learned all that somewhere else, but Jackson and [coach Ken O’Brien] helped me a great deal.”

Jackson was quick to play down the uniqueness of his training program, but admitted Koncki needed a lot work when he first came on the scene.

“We worked on his technical aspect of jumping in terms of how he took off, his flight pattern, his landing technique,” said Jackson. “Once he became more technically proficient, we allowed him to have more speed, meaning a longer approach.”

Being the tallest member of the team by a two-inch margin, Jackson believes the technical training was key.

“For a while he struggled with it because he is a ‘rangy’ kid,” said Jackson. “It took longer for him to get control of his limbs. The flip side of that is now that he has more strength and body awareness, he can control his speed.”

In time, the training produced results. In his sophomore year, Koncki broke into the 23-foot range, covering 23-01.25 feet through the air. That distance, however, still left him well short of any record, in either the indoor or outdoor seasons.

When the indoor track season picked up again the following year, Koncki opened with fairly consistent jumps, in the mid- to high-22-foot range before placing first in three consecutive meets. In each meet, he jumped farther and farther. At the Valentine Invitational, he clinched first with a jump of 23-00.75 feet, then became the Atlantic 10 champion with a 23-03.50, and his season-best leap of 23-06.25 crowned him as the New England champion.

“It wasn’t until junior year when I was jumping 23-06 [feet] that I was like wow, OK,” said Koncki. “I was starting to get a lot better at this and actually [started] to learn how to long jump.

“That’s when it all just started to happen,” he said.

The outdoor version of the A-10 Championship saw Koncki claim second and the UMass outdoor long jump record with a 23-10.75 jump. However after claiming the outdoor record, it wasn’t always etched in stone that the indoor record would soon be his as well.

“I knew I could [get the indoor record],” said Koncki. “But I was nervous. This is my last season. I want the record. Each meet I kept telling myself, ‘I can do this, I really can.’

“Some meets [I would get frustrated] when you get on the runway [and] it’s not going right, or during practices [I] would go and I just wouldn’t be getting far, or my board was off, and I was thinking, ‘At the meet, I’ll do horrible.’”

It took three meets for Koncki to eclipse Erik Hoagland’s 2007 indoor record after falling short at the Sparks Sorlien Invitational and Great Dane Invitational.

“It was just a matter of being able to get on the board perfectly and that’s what happened,” he said.

On Jan. 27, Koncki was given his third opportunity to move into first in the UMass record books. He took advantage of his first chance that night and made the place his own, jumping 24-00.25.

“It was a nice thing to see,” said  O’Brien. “He’s been working hard for it and I’m always happy when something like that happens.”

The season doesn’t end with the record, though. Jackson’s goal for Koncki is to make the NCAA Nationals, and believes that in order for him to do that, he needs to be jumping consistently between the 24- and 25-foot range.

Koncki may be known in the record books for his long jumping abilities, but he never gave up on the hurdles either. Unlike triple jump, Koncki stuck with his other main high school event and has produced solid performances to show for it. That type of versatility has received praise from his coaches.

“[Koncki] is a multi-talented athlete,” said O’Brien. “He’s a significant factor in any of the events he is competing in. It’s a coach’s dream of having versatility and excellence at the same time.”

As a senior, Koncki will conclude his collegiate track career this spring, but his career as an athlete is far from over. Jackson believes that by the time he leaves UMass, he will not have met his potential yet, estimating his maximum jump to be in the “25- to 26-foot range”.

“I absolutely think he can continue to compete,” said Jackson.

“There will probably some open meets where I will come back and say. ‘Hey, why not?’” said Koncki.

For now, the new record holder continues towards the A-10 and New England Championships, where he will defend his titles with an eye on the IC4A and National meet.

Jeffrey Okerman can be reached at jokerman@student.umass.edu and followed on Twitter @MDC_Okerman.

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