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boys throws | 07-08 most outstanding performers

This is the sixth of a series of DyeStat year-end awards for 2007-08. The DyeStat Most Outstanding Performers series, which follows the DyeStat Athlete of the Year awards, includes top honors for boys and girls distances, sprints, hurdles, jumps, throws, relays, and multi-events. Selections are made by DyeStat editors and are based a combination of multiple major victories/honors won and performances on all-time and yearly lists. Performances from outdoor track, indoor track, and cross-country are taken into account..

Text by SteveU - Photos by John Nepolitan, Vic Sailer, and submitted

Conor McCullough

Just what does a record-setting hammer and weight thrower have to do to get a little love from the track media and the generality of his chosen sport, anyway?  For his substantial accomplishments with the ball and chain over three years, New Yorker Walter Henning seemed to get an endless series of headlines and, eventually, a DyeStat Athlete of the Year award and two such honors from Track and Field News.  But as the 2008 season has come to an end, both of Henning’s HSRs in those events had been shattered by a young Californian who, by all counts, has not garnished nearly the level of attention.

Maybe it was all those records and record attempts in The Armory, where Henning practically commanded his own corner of the hallowed facility, with the weight-throwing cage having been built especially for him.  But that’s also where Conor McCullough’s 2008 campaign began.  When the 6’4”, 200-pound Chaminade CA junior stepped into the ring at NSIC this March, it was the first time he’d even SEEN a weight throwing facility.  It didn’t take him long to get used to it.  On his third throw, he took down Henning’s year-old mark with an awesome 87-10.75.

McCullough soon returned to the hammer, his true specialty.  At the start of June, he put up a big 250-01 PR, improving his hold on #3 all-time.  Then he joined Henning at the USATF Juniors, where he flung the heavier junior implement 233-05, 2nd behind the LSU frosh and making the team for Poland.  A week later, at the USATF Youth meet, he landed the 260-00 bomb with the HS hammer that put his name atop the all-time list.  Finally, at the World Juniors, he took silver behind Henning’s gold, breaking a third Henning mark with 248-11 for the junior implement and joining the collegian as the first two US medalists ever in World Junior meet history.

And Conor still has another year to improve..

Nick Vena

If there was a thrower who really chewed up headlines in 2008, it wasn’t McCullough, Mason Finley, or Jordan Clarke – it was Nick Vena.  While the others set records or made serious inroads on all-time lists, it was the Morristown NJ phenom who made them dream of the end of perhaps the greatest record reign of them all: The 29 years that the legendary Michael Carter has owned the hard-to-fathom shot put mark of 81-03.  Yes, Vena is still more than 13 feet from that record.  But as almost every track fan in the country knows, Vena had all those 60-plus throws, ending with a PR of 67-10.25, as a freshman.

Already an experienced putter and a 57-footer off the line to begin his 9th-grade indoor campaign, Vena needed until just the first week of January to set his first national freshman record, a 61-01.50 at the Morris County Relays.  That was impressive enough, but he kept improving and at a ridiculous pace, with landmarks coming at 63-02.75 in early February, then a mind-numbing US#1 66-00.75 less than three weeks later.  It would help all year that in so many of his New Jersey meets, he had Mike Alleman, who would eventually reach 66 feet himself, pushing him and sometimes beating him.

Although many top putters would go to NIN, Vena dominated NSIC with another US#1 of 66-07.25.  Outdoors, it was more of the same, with a Penn Relays title and three outdoor freshman records among the highlights.  At NON, it took a huge PR (68-11.25) by Brandon Pounds IN to relegate Vena (67-02.25) to 2nd, but it’s hard to imagine there will be many non-winning meets down the road for the athlete that was so impressive this year that he merited a full-page for a special Sports Illustrated feature on outstanding young American athletes this summer.

Mason Finley

Size doesn’t always matter in becoming a top thrower, but it sure doesn’t hurt if you know how to use it.  McCullough proved that and so did Coloradoan Mason Finley, who was able to become history’s third-longest prep discus thrower this spring and will have a chance to break the HSR as a senior in 2009.

Last year, Finley was the nation’s best 10th-grader with 188-08 DT and #2 with 61-00.75 SP.  He then transferred from Salidas HS to Buena Vista HS and began working more closely with his father as a coach.  Already in February, he had a new shot PR when he won Simplot with 62-03.  Then the 6’8”, 330-pound junior went outdoors and went about improving his discus, first breaking the state record and 200 feet with a 202-10 at the Eagle Valley meet.  By the end of April, he was up to 211-10.  Then came the bomb – a 222-01 at his region meet that left him behind only Nik Arrhenius and Kami Keshmiri on the all-time US list.  Not surprisingly, the mark was also a junior-class record.

Finley had no problem backing up his claim as the best in the post-season, knowing that monster PRs aren’t easy to come by, but consistency over 200 would pay off.  At Great Southwest, he topped strong throws fields with 204-08 DT and 64-11.50 in the shot.  Then, finally, he took care of business in Greensboro with a decisive 206-11 NON triumph.

Jordan Clarke

Almost every year, it seems like a shot putter makes a big 8-10 foot improvement as a senior and comes from outside the national radar to make a big splash.  Last year, Jimmie Pacifico kind of fit that bill.  This year, it was Jordan Clarke.  In 2007, the Anchorage (Bartlett HS) AK thrower hit 61-03.25, which made him the 9th-leading returnee for this spring.  But he surged past all of those athletes to become the only putter to hit 70 feet this year and lead all U.S. throwers.  His put of 71-03 in the ASAA State Meet moved him to #8 on the all-time list.

Clarke first made headlines on a big scale when he hit 67-10.75, a two-foot PR, at a local last chance meet the second weekend in May to take the US lead.  At his Region IV meet eight days later, he made the big jump up to 70-06, becoming the 14th outdoor 70-footer in prep history.  At the same meet, he hurled the discus 194-08, also a PR to that point.  Finally, at the May 24 finals, he netted his final PR with a series that also included 70-08 and 69-05.50. 

For the post-season, Clarke decided Nike Outdoor was a little too late and too far, despite the great competition that he would have faced.  But he did travel to California for the earlier Golden West meet, where he easily won the shot and discus.  While he wasn’t able to improve on his shot PR (just 64-10.50), he did crack the 200-foot discus barrier on his final fair throw of the night at 204-00.

Kyle Smith

In an event where consistency is tough to attain and where the new implement is still new enough that a top ten performer carries less weight, it’s tough to make your mark among peers from other events.  But what Daphne AL senior Kyle Smith did in 2008, with his marks and major victories, was enough to earn respect with this group.

After a best of 172-11 as a junior, Smith started out in March with a big PR of 205-04 at St. Paul’s.  Showing it was no fluke, he continued with several meets in the 190s, including a decisive win in the prestigious Mobile Challenge of Champions.  Then came the AHSA state meet, where Smith launched a career-defining throw of 223-08, taking the US#1 spot (for the year) and smashing the Alabama record.  It also made him #9 on the all-time list (new jav started in 1987).  Ten days later, Smith would also win his state’s decathlon title with a respectable 5771.

For the post-season, Smith focused on two big meets, Great Southwest and USATF Juniors, with his eye on making the team for Poland.  In Albuquerque, he came up with what was then his #2 meet of the year, winning with 208-11.  Then two weeks later in Columbus, he came even closer to his PR, with a 217-08, but finished third and absorbed his only loss to a high-schooler all year as Matt Byers KS was 2nd.

Honorable Mention

Brandon Pounds – The Lawrence North IN sr came into the year with solid 61-07.50 credentials, and quickly improved to 64-09.50 indoors to establish himself as an NIN contender.  He wound up 3rd in Maryland at 62-03.75, then continued to improve outdoors.  With almost every top putter in the country at NON, save US#1 Jordan Clarke, Pounds came up with his career-best throw, a huge 68-11.75 to beat Nick Vena and take the national title.

Michael Gama – While he was not at the level of McCullough, the Bishop Hendricken RI senior was at or near the top of both the weight throw and hammer lists all year.  More importantly, he showed up at the prep championships and beat who he was supposed to beat.  While McCullough was at NSIC and USATF Jrs., he was at neither Nike meet.  Gama was and came up with the indoor/outdoor double, hitting 73-05.25 to win the weight throw in Landover, and 204-01 to triumph with the hammer in Greensboro.  He wound up #4 on the two lists, but with two big national titles.

Geoff Tabor – Since his sophomore year, when he nearly hit 200 feet in the discus and scared the class record, the Ardmore OK thrower has been known for putting up big marks on the friendly fields in his home state, but underperforming somewhat on the big stage.  This year, after winning his state meet with 210-08, he was a solid 2nd at Great Southwest, but then a disappointing 5th at NON.  But then he zipped up to Columbus for the USATF Junior platter event and finally came up with a monster mark when he needed it most – a 195-05 with the heavier implement that earned him a spot on the World Team for Poland.

Year-End Awards Index