WARWICK — Zach Michelitch is hard to miss, not only because his 6-foot-8 frame towers over all of his high jump competitors.

It’s his socks.

Michelitch, whose strides are longer than Duke basketball star Zion Williamson’s on a fast break, believes in the power of the pelicans. Atop his toes, beneath the illustration on Michelitch’s socks of the large water bird is the message “Pelican’t Touch This.” There’s no embarrassment when the Minisink Valley senior admits he’s one of those athletes who buys into the superstition of lucky socks.

During indoor season, when he topped the 6-foot, 8-inch bar, he was wearing socks with baby chickens on it, his “chick magnets.” Despite his magnetic attachment to his socks, he didn't stick the landing he'd hoped. Michelitch strained his left calf before the indoor state meet. On Friday at the Orange County Interscholastic Athletics Association outdoor track championships, his first-place jump of 6 feet, 4 inches wasn’t where he sees himself at season’s end.

“Seven feet,” Michelitch said, leaving no gap between question and answer.

Michelitch’s teammates call him "Coach" because he invests as much time teaching others as he does perfecting his own technique. He taught first-year track and field athletes Freddie Gadol and Joe DeStefano how to throw and jump, respectively.

When Minisink pentathlete Alex Krupinski reflects on what he’s learned from Michelitch, he brings up a 5-foot-9 jump from a county meet, noting the way in which Michelitch didn’t let a poor performance get him down.

“That just reminds me if I have a bad day to just bounce back,” Krupinski said.

Head coach Derek Somerville said he was encouraged by Michelitch’s effort on Friday because he had the same bounce in his step from before his injury. His ankles touched the bar each time he tried to lift himself over 6-foot-6.

Michelitch, who was nicknamed “baby giraffe” before he bulked up to 190-plus pounds, recites the top height he jumped each year since starting in seventh grade without skipping a beat. He didn’t take the sport seriously until he was a sophomore, when “something clicked in my head.”

Now Michelitch is trying to replicate the flying success he had in indoor season with his pair of pelicans, but Somerville would prefer to reach back in his sock drawer and pull out the chick magnets.

“All he needs to do is get back to the socks,” Somerville said.



Twitter: @jfedichTHR