An uncommon blend of versatility, dedication and acceleration made Zach Schmelz of St. Mark’s into Delaware’s outstanding 2014 high school track athlete.
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In a season when three distance runners – Jack Hagood and Stephen Garrett of Tatnall and Charter’s Kieran Tuntivate – reached elite status in their specialties, and Milford’s Ryan Thomas became the second best long-jumper in state history, Schmelz was named Delaware’s top outdoor athlete by the state’s track coaches.
Unbeaten in the 400, anchor of the state’s best 4×400 relay, the New Castle County and Division One titlist outside his specialty in the 200, Schmelz climaxed his career by becoming the sixth fastest quarter-miler in Delaware history.
He almost single-handedly made St. Mark’s a contender. He accounted for 38 of the third-place Spartans’ 56 points in the New Castle County meet. His four gold medals at the Division One meet, including two relay victories, yielded 40 of the fifth-place Spartans’ 59 points.
“I’ve never seen someone with that kind of tenacity,” says coach Tom McCartan. “I never saw him quit. That’s remarkable. Even for the greatest kid you’ve ever coached, there will be a time – where the race is over, or it’s just not his day – when he quits, and that’s understandable. But I never saw Zach quit, not a single time.”
Track is a passion but an obsession. Schmelz’ first love was soccer, which he never forsook. He finally made the varsity as a senior, a playmaking striker for the Spartans’ quarterfinalists.
“I picked up track in fourth grade, to see if it could help me in soccer,” says Schmelz. “It turned out I was somewhat better in track than soccer, so I started leaning towards track more, but soccer was still there to help me and give me something to do in the summer and the fall.”
“He never considered giving up soccer,” says McCartan. “That’s important. We’re only kids for a short time. The era of specialization is upon us, where kids find one sport and stick with it. I think that in a lot of ways that’s a shame.”
That versatility continued in track. In the indoor state meet, Schmelz won two events and was top-three in two others, establishing himself as a force in the high and long jumps.
A knee injury in soccer intermittently slowed him in practice. “In the week before counties, it started bothering me again,” says Schmelz. “Then it seemed not to affect me and I was able to run perfectly.”
At the county meet, Schmelz won the 400 by 15 yards, overtook Newark’s champion half-miler Jarod Wilson on the anchor leg to give the Spartans victory in the 4×400, and edged Glasgow’s Jay Whalen to win the 200.
“He had a good three steps over me coming out of the stagger. In the replay I saw that I beat him by the tip of my shoulder. I didn’t even think I had beaten him until I was told that I did,” says Schmelz. “He had a great start that I still haven’t mastered.”
A week later at the Division One championships, Schmelz subordinated his 400-meter time to a pursuit of team scoring in a four-event gold medal performance. With all-state defensive back Michael Catalano and basketball guard Papa Otchere-Addo, whom he recruited to join Karl Green and T.J. Brown, he led the Spartans to two relay victories.
He ran second, not anchor, on the 4×200 relay. “You want to keep him on the track as long as you can,” says McCartan. “In the 4×200, because he’s receiving the baton and giving the baton, we can lengthen his leg at both ends.”
In winning the Meet of Champions 400 in 47.84, he became only the fourth Delaware athlete to surpass, over the course of a season, in times converted to meters, the legendary 1967 performance of De La Warr’s Arnold Tucker, who set state records at 220 and 440 yards in one afternoon.
Also Gatorade’s outstanding Delaware track athlete, Schmelz plans to study chemistry at Salisbury University, whose track team is a Division III power.
July 6: Softball
July 7: Baseball
July 8: Boys lacrosse
July 9: Girls lacrosse
July 10: Golf
July 11: Girls soccer
SATURDAY: GIRLS TRACK & FIELD
Sunday: Boys track & field