Former New York resident has helped some of the state’s best improve
Chris Heinze loves puzzles. Not the traditional 1,000 piece jigsaws that sit on coffee tables for weeks, but the real life versions with actual people.
Pole vaulters, to be exact.
“I have a girl going 7 [feet], 6 [inches], Rachel Paroby, and, for her, she’s as exciting as anybody because she’s just learning how to bend. … It’s exciting because she’s a little puzzle and I have to figure out how to tweak that puzzle to get her to do as good as she can. I think that figuring out how to make everyone do as best they can, it’s what makes it interesting for me. They’re not robots, everyone has their own physical strengths and mental strengths.”
And Heinze, a former high school pole vaulter in New York, has an uncanny knack for squeezing the last drop out of every one of his vaulters strengths, whatever they may be.
McNulty, a sophomore developing at a rapid rate, is a “great leaper,” Heinze said. She gets her height from her takeoff from the ground. King, a senior who has broken her own pole vaulting record time and time again to its most recent height of 13-03, is “one of the fastest vaulters to ever come through Maryland,” Heinze said. A large majority of her height is produced from a speedy dash down the runway, building momentum to sail upward of 13-foot heights.
For Heinze, the dichotomous nature between the two is like taking two totally contrasting pieces and molding them into a decidedly unique, but decidedly elite pole vaulter.
“Just the energy and enthusiasm and excitement, they know that when we get there, it’s not just fun, there’s purpose to every day. We want to do something and improve something every day,” the coach said. “They’re excited about it and the atmosphere we have here — we have a bunch of good vaulters all trying to do the same thing. It’s just fun. That’s what it is to me, it’s a fun thing.”
Heinze also is fully aware of how fortunate he is to be working in one of the most rich pole vault counties in the country, one that took home four girls state vaulting titles combined from last year’s outdoor and this year’s indoor state meets. Coach Chris Lewis said that the only place you might find one team boasting a pair of 12-foot vaulters is in Texas, and King went nearly 18 inches higher than the nearest Texan at the Penn Relays last weekend while McNulty cleared the same height as her.
“He is absolutely amazing,” said King, who has worked with Heinze since her freshman year. “I keep saying this and I keep saying this and people are finally starting to pick up on it. He’s definitely the best coach in Maryland by far. He just knows his stuff, he’s so incredibly dedicated to the sport, so dedicated. He’ll stay up until 2 in the morning just analyzing vault videos, doing everything to help us improve, and to have that good chemistry with your coach and to be working as a team and to know that he cares just as much as you do, it really is magical. It makes vaulting so much more enjoyable.”
Well, so does winning. King, a Virginia Tech signee, does that often. She has won all four state championships she has participated in, and, barring an injury or an astounding vault from McNulty, King will be cruising to a fifth later this month. She was a hair — possibly even less — shy of breaking the Penn Relays pole vault record last week on her first attempt at 13-01.5 when the pole wobbled for a few tantalizing seconds before slipping off the rack. King missed her ensuing two attempts and settled for second place, losing only to Emily Savage of Weston (Conn.), who needed to break the record in order to top King.
“As a coach you want them to have a big smile on their face every time,” Heinze said after King bowed out in second. “She wanted more, she was really expecting to go higher than this.”
McNulty wasn’t really expected to go all that high this year at all. A former gymnast — nearly every decent vaulter has a background in gymnastics, including Heinze — McNulty’s first full-time season in the event came during the most recent indoor season. By Heinze’s account, her clearance of 11-06 was the highest in the country from a first-time vaulter.
“Coach Heinze has played a big part,” McNulty said before the Penn Relays of her swift ascent to the top with King. “He’s such a good coach and the gymnastics background played a big part because I’m kind of fearless.”
Fearless. That’s a great piece to have in solving a pole vaulting puzzle.