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Princeton senior Austen Stewart clears the bar during the Howard-Monier Invitational on April 9 at Princeton. Stewart has cleared 6 feet, 8 inches during the indoor season and 6-6 during the outdoor season. He hopes to reach the IHSA Class 2A State Track and Field Meet and clear 6-11 this season. NewsTribune file photo/Genna Ord
PRINCETON — Princeton senior Austen Stewart approaches the high jump like he would any subject in school.
“You just do research like you would for a normal class,” Stewart said. “It’s like writing a paper without actually writing a paper. You do all the research, you just don’t fill in the answers.”
In fact, Stewart admits that perhaps he studies high jump more than he should.
“I should probably study more in school than I do for track, but it just comes with (track) being something I love,” Stewart said. “When you love something, you want to get better at it and you want to put the time in to get better at it.”
Stewart began high jumping in eighth grade because the mat looked comfortable, and got to the point where he was “OK at it” by the end of his freshman year, so he hit the weight room and began studying in the summer before his sophomore year.
“That helped a lot,” Stewart said about studying the high jump.
The summer work paid off as Stewart set a then personal best at 6 feet, 5 1/2 inches that season and placed fourth in Class 1A.
Stewart has continued to research his craft over the years — always making sure the information he finds is verified by multiple credible sources — which has helped him continue to improve.
This season, he cleared 6-8 during the indoor season and reached 6-6 outdoors. “You always look at techniques,” Stewart said. “You look for how to get your right spot on the track where you want to take off from. There’s everything — where to place your foot when you want to drive upward over the bar, where your arm should be. There’s just endless things.”
Princeton coach Dan Foes said Stewart’s work has helped him build on being a great athlete.
“He has a great work ethic,” Foes said. “This year has been really tough. As a coach, you come into the season and have visions of doing all these wonderful things, but the weather has been against us all spring. … That being said, Austen’s always found a way to study his event.
“We always try to harp on the kids to be students of the event, and Austen takes that to the next level. He’s constantly studying. We’ve probably done more this year with him by studying film and doing different things like that because the weather has been too crummy to get out and work outside.”
Stewart hopes his work pays off with another trip to state after missing the cut last season. He’ll try to punch his ticket to state Friday at the Class 2A Plano Sectional.
“It’d be a nice experience,” Stewart said of returning to state. “It was obviously disappointing last year not going. I’d like to make it my last run here for Princeton and try to get my name up on the (school record) board at 6-11. Then I’d always have something here to come back to.”
Clearing 6-11 would break the school record of 6-9 set by Randy Allen in the late 1980s.
“I see him every once in a while and he always asks me, ‘Have you beaten it yet?’ I usually go, ‘Not yet, but it’s coming.’ We joke about it,” said Stewart, who received advice from Allen as a freshman. “I feel like he doesn’t want to let it go, but I feel like if I got it, he wouldn’t be too upset.”
Foes said he thinks 6-11 is an attainable goal for Stewart.
“I think it is (reachable),” Foes said. “The sky’s the limit, really. It’s just one of those things where we’ll have to see how it goes. He’s really looked good at some of those higher heights. Maybe a different condition or something, he might be able to get there.”
And that would mean all his studying paid off.
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.
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