AKRON, Ohio — Each time Akron senior pole vaulter Matt Ludwig races down the runway, he's armed with more than just his pole.
"When you're confident, you're consistent, there's certain things that you don't let fall out of your control," Ludwig said.
Ludwig was in full control at the Kent State Dual on Jan. 25, when he nailed the biggest jump of his eight-year career. He vaulted 5.83 meters -- or 19 feet and 1 1/2 inches -- the world-leading mark of the indoor pole vault season at the time, both collegiately and professionally.
Moments later, Ludwig's teammates mobbed him in celebration.
"I think the big word I was using for the past couple of weeks is 'validating,'" he said. "I'm starting to turn into the competitor that I want to be."
Track and field fans might be surprised to hear those words. After a record-setting career at Lake Catholic High School, Ludwig won the 2017 outdoor national championship as a college sophomore.
"There's just so much to it," he said. "There's always something to improve. There's always something to get better."
In reality, the Chardon native's jumps are higher now because they need to be.
"A few years ago, a bar like (Ludwig's jump against Kent State) would easily win you the NCAA championships," Akron head coach Dennis Mitchell said.
"Now, you're fighting for your life."
Louisiana State freshman phenom Mondo Duplantis topped Ludwig's mark on Feb. 2. and the NCAA record still belongs to former Zip and world champion Shawn Barber, who vaulted seven centimeters higher than Ludwig (5.91) in 2015.
"Going through the season, it was like, 'Alright, 19 feet, that's checking one of the boxes,'" Ludwig said.
"Best believe that 5.92, which is one centimeter above Shawn's record, is the next box on the list."
In a sport revolved around raising the bar, Ludwig -- a biomedical engineering major who boasts a 3.89 GPA -- displays a work ethic and attitude to match.
"I don't think I'll ever be satisfied with what I accomplished in the sport," he said. "I already enjoy and I'm very happy with the things that I have done, but there's always going to be more to work for and more to improve."
Perhaps those eight extra centimeters of motivation left behind by Barber are exactly what Ludwig needs.