Tuesday, May 20, 2008

University of Albany Pole Vaulter Luke Schoen: The Sky's the Limit

University of Albany Pole Vaulter Luke Schoen will be participating in the NCAA's in the coming weeks.

One day in his sophomore year at West Islip High School, Luke Schoen amused himself during gym class by running up a wall and doing backflips.

He was noticed by his teacher, Jim Dooley, who also happened to be a coach on the track team.

"'Hey, you should try pole vaulting,"' Schoen recalled Dooley saying. "'All the crazy people do that."'

If so, there's a method to the madness for Schoen, a University at Albany sophomore who could become one of the nation's top pole vaulters.

He set a school record last weekend by clearing 17 feet, 5 inches at the UAlbany Spring Class, tying the 11th-best national collegiate mark this spring.

"It was really good because my parents were here so it made it extra special," Schoen said.

He's the favorite to win Saturday afternoon at the IC4A Championship in Princeton, N.J., and he's already qualified for the NCAA East Region meet at Florida State in two weeks.

Schoen figures a performance of 17 feet or better should put him in the top five and earn a ticket to the NCAA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa on June 11-14.

The top pole vaulters in the country jump consistently over 18 feet, so it's unlikely Schoen could challenge for a national title this year. But that could change within the next two years, according to UAlbany associate coach Craig McVey, who works with Schoen.

"I really think so," McVey said. "It won't be this year, but he's jumped a lot from his freshman year to his sophomore year, and sometimes that's the hardest year for improvement. Next year's going to be interesting."

Schoen, who is 6-foot-1, has the classic build of a pole vaulter with a strong upper body and enough speed to motor down the runway.

And he's also got the proper genetics. His father, Ken, was a UAlbany football player from 1973 to 1975. His mother, Cathy, was a gymnast.

But Cathy Schoen gives much of the credit to Dooley, the West Islip coach who first discovered her son.

"He saw something in Luke that a lot of other coaches didn't see and stuck by him," she said. "He had Luke work and it really paid off."

Schoen, who had done the high jump, didn't immediately warm up to the new event. He wanted to quit more than once, only to be nagged back into it by his coach.

"(Dooley) was like, 'What are you going to do if you don't do this,' " Schoen recalled. "That was true because I got kicked off my basketball team because I went on a skiing trip when there was a game."

The persistence paid off when Schoen won the Federation championship as a West Islip senior.

He chose to attend UAlbany over Connecticut, but not because his father is a graduate.

"I really didn't know much about the program here," he said. "I just liked the school. Everyone on the team was really nice. I thought UConn's team was a lot better, but this team's a lot better than UConn."

If that's the case, one reason is because Schoen is on the team.

Courtesy: Mark Singelais

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