Jumps, combined events preview with Paul Zalewski

BLACKSBURG – After a stellar year for Virginia Tech’s track and field program, there is much to be excited about entering the 2018 indoor and outdoor seasons.

The program earned three ACC titles, set numerous school records and returns the majority of the student-athletes who accomplished the impressive feat.

Assistant coach Paul Zalewski, who oversees the jumps and combined events group, sat down with Virginia Tech’s HokieVision and answered questions for the upcoming season. To watch the video of the interview in its entirety, click here.

The returners for the group on the men’s side are James Carver, James Holt, Will Kendall and Mackenzie Muldoon. Muldoon, a senior, scored at both of the Indoor and Outdoor ACC Championships, finishing in the top eight. Muldoon owns the second-most points in the indoor heptathlon in school history and earned second-team All-ACC at the outdoor championships in the decathlon.

On the women’s side, the student-athletes coming back to Blacksburg are Eszter Bajnok and Emily Miller. Bajnok earned second-team All-ACC honors in the indoor season and first-team All-ACC in the outdoor season last season. The sophomore also competed at the NCAA East Preliminaries in the triple jump.

The jumps and combined events group welcomes two newcomers (Stefanie Aeschlimann and Cecilia Marenick) on the women’s side and one on the men’s side (Matthew Manilli) this upcoming year.

Q: Last year was a huge step for the Virginia Tech program, winning three ACC team titles and from the multis, Mackenzie Muldoon and Eszter Bajnok scoring under your watch. What did that feel like?

ZALEWSKI: “2017 was truly a great year for Virginia Tech track and field. Winning three of the four track and field championships, seeing the women win their first since 2008, and having the men and women both win the outdoor in the same season, really you can’t write a better script than that. It was really incredible to see our kids come together as a team to bring those championships home to Blacksburg the way they did.

“2017 in the jumps was definitely a good year. I was really proud to see the growth and development of Mackenzie Muldoon in the combined events, not only as an athlete and the improvement of his marks, but as a competitor. He showed up at the ACC championships indoor and ran up a 400-point personal best in the heptathlon and dropped lifetime bests in five of the seven events. Then outdoor, he had a 200-point personal best in the decathlon and had seven lifetime bests in 10 events. But probably the best part of the outdoor meet was that he got sixth place and was selected second team All-ACC for the first time. To see that young man step up on a consistent basis when the team needs him at his best, really impresses me and makes me proud of him. And the best part, he’s even better now than he was last year. I’m excited to see what another year of development can do for him.

“Another bright spot for the 2017 team was Eszter Bajnok in the triple jump. In her first year with the program, she broke both the indoor and outdoor school records and got third at ACC outdoor. It was a good season for her with adjusting from her home country of Hungary to life in the U.S. Just like with Muldoon, she’s training really well now and I’m looking forward to seeing what 2018 has in store for her.”

Q: A talented group of newcomers join the jumps and multi-events this season. What has you excited about them?

ZALEWSKI: “What excites me most about the new members of the team this season is the talent level and the continued growth of the jumps and combined events group as a whole. Getting kids like this really shows how we are developing and growing as an event group, and it really excites me for this group to contribute more and more to our ability to win championships.

“Stefanie Aeschlimann is a triple jumper joining the team from Germany and I couldn’t be happier with the fall season she’s had. She’s an amazing young woman to work with, very hard working, great personality, tireless work ethic and has consistently improved on all her training metrics though the fall. I’ve seen a great relationship form between her and Eszter both on and off the track and that friendly competition is really helping both of them push harder and harder every day. That’s really fun to watch.

“Matthew Manilli is the young buck on the men’s side that really has a bright future ahead of him. He’s a great kid and a great athlete and it’s really been a lot of fun working with him through the fall thus far. The best thing I think about Matt is that, not only is he naturally fast and explosive, but he wants it. He wants it bad. He’s the kind of kid that’s always asking questions like ‘Coach, what else can I do? How can I do better with this or that?’ He’s really hungry for it and has the confidence in himself and the competitiveness to back it up. He’s certainly got a lot to learn, but if what I’ve seen this fall is any indication, this guy is going to do some great things for the program in his career. And just having him around and training with Muldoon, you can see the balance that they bring each other. Mack has a lot of experience that Matt is learning from, and Matt gives Mack someone to compete with every day in practice. They feed off each other really well and I think it’s going to do wonders for them both this year.”

Q: What would you like the jumps and multis to accomplish this upcoming year?

ZALEWSKI: “My goals for the 2018 season still start at the same place – winning ACC titles as a team. Above anything, that’s what we are working towards in the jumps and combined events group. But I certainly have some individual and group goals that I’d like to see accomplished. We have a chance this season to have more athletes from this event group score at the ACC meet than we’ve ever had in my tenure here. If everyone stays healthy, six or seven could definitely be scoring at the ACC meet. And I won’t be surprised to see three or four of them on the podium placing top three, indoor and out. Beyond that, we have the chance to send the largest group of jumpers since I started here to the NCAA regional meet and National meets. It really is exciting to think about the opportunities that are in front of these kids. If we can stay heathy and focused, really there’s no telling how far we can go as an event group and a program.”

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