Whether he's stepping off a diving board or soaring into the sky off a long stick, Muyenda Burnett spends a lot of time in the air.
"You've got to be a little crazy," the Valparaiso junior admits, describing the personality of a pole vaulter.
In either case, Burnett's been a quick study. He took up diving as a freshman and came out of nowhere to finish second in the state this season. He began vaulting that same year and is knocking on the door of big things in the event as well.
"We've seen it a lot in the past with girls in gymnastics," Valpo coach Brett Polizotto said. "There seems to be a natural transition into vaulting. Mo is the first one we've had with the spinning and twisting motions of diving who's transferred it into the vault."
While high school diving might not have same fear factor as the pole vault, Burnett's found common threads that translate to success in both.
"Diving helps with body awareness, knowing where you're at all times," he said. "Besides the weight room, my legs get stronger with all the bouncing on the board. Diving's definitely taught me to concentrate better. If you snap in diving, it's really bad. It teaches you to one-track (mind) it. "
Focus is a premium for Burnett, who also does the long jump, an event that parallels the pole vault in meets.
"Mentally, it's just thinking about what I have to do and how to get it done," he said. "I have to make sure I conserve the right amount of energy, drink a lot of fluids."
Valpo has also dabbled with Burnett in the hurdles and high jump, but there's only so much to go around.
"We've kept him busy," Polizotto said. "It definitely takes some extra concentration. He has the ability to run. We just haven't been able to utilize it much."
Burnett, who also plays football, will compete in the pole vault and long jump in tonight's Valparaiso Regional after placing second and fourth, respectively, in the events at the Portage Sectional.
"Honestly, I never pictured myself in the regional," Burnett said. "I was in a slump. I was just getting back from diving and I wasn't in shape yet. Then I snapped a pole at DAC indoor. I had to fumble with what we have and the new one's tighter, so it took a while. I finally got refocused, had a good couple weeks of practices and good meets."
Last year, Burnett vaulted 13-6 indoors, a height he hasn't been able to exceed since, despite going as high as 15 feet in practice.
"He started off real strong and picked it back up this year," Polizotto said. "He's set himself up to be in a position where he's matched his best and is ready, we think, to go a little higher."
Depending on conditions, Burnett will likely have to post a personal best to get out of the regional.
"I'm trying to get 14, 14-6," he said. "I'd like to put up another state (berth) like diving, not necessarily getting second. I'm definitely taking down records next year."
The school mark stands at 15-1, held by Nate Malone.
"It's nice to have people to look up to, to come in and try to learn things you've never seen from somebody who's better than you," Burnett said.