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boys throws | 08-09 most outstanding performers

This is the fifth of a series of DyeStat year-end awards for 2008-09. The DyeStat Most Outstanding Performers series, which precedes 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, Robert Rosenberg, Johnny Haddock, and Pat Davey

Mason Finley

After his junior class record 222-01 last year, there was no question that Finley was a great candidate to take down the discus USR this year.  Of course, it’s one thing to be consistent; it’s another to find the right conditions for a monster throw over 230 feet.  On top of that, the Buena Vista CO senior was clearly not a one-event thrower, even at the highest level.  With his size – 6’8”, more than 300 lbs. – it seemed obvious that he was destined to be great, but speed and technique are always the biggest keys, and how well he fared there would determine how Finley would do in what turned out to be one of the greatest years ever for prep throwers.

Indoors, Finley had one of the season’s first big throws, hurling the shot 68-00 the first weekend in January.  He low-keyed it indoors, though, continuing playing hoops for his school and passing on the national indoor meets.  A week after indoor nationals, he had the first big discus throw of the year at 207-00, but it was at Arcadia that he really showed what was to come, wowing fans with a 221-00/64-11 DT/SP double.  Then nine days later, he had perhaps his best overall double of the year, hitting two PRs at the Gunnison Invite: then-US#1 223-04 and then-US#2 71-03.25.

Four days after that, Finley unleashed the bomb heard round the track world: A USR 236-06 DT at the High Altitude Challenge that took down Nik Arrhenius’s 8-year-old mark.  He added 66-09.25 SP for the double.  After sweeping state titles, he did the same at Great Southwest (215-11/68-05) and Golden West (207-02/69-06.25).  Then, at the summit meeting of 70-footers at NON, he came in seeded 4th, but topped them all with his winning 71-08.75.  He had already won the DT easily at 211-00.  Finley wasn’t done, though, setting prep marks with the Junior implements at USATF Jrs at 204-03 and 66-01.50 (2nd to collegian Jordan Clarke).  He’ll complete one of the great prep throwing seasons ever at Pan Am Jrs.

Conor McCullough

The weight throw and hammer throw have traditionally been events that haven’t gotten a lot of love at track meets, but that has changed somewhat in recent years, thanks to – among others – now-graduated NY prep great Walter Henning and, now, McCullough, who have made record-setting routine and won general track fans over with their style, grace, and overall greatness.  With his junior-year USRs of 260-00 (HS hammer), 248-11 (Jr. hammer), and 87-10.75 (HS weight), it was going to be tough for him to top himself as a senior.

Of course, as great as McCullough’s weight record was, the truth remained that he had only competed in the event once, hence, perhaps a lot of potential in another go-round – event as great as 87-10.75 was.  The Chaminade CA senior planned to do both NIN and NSIC and when it was all over, he had put together as incredible a weekend of throwing as one could have.  At NIN, he first broke his record with 87-11.50, then he delivered a throw that produced a measurement many probably thought they’d never see: 92-07.50.  Two days later at NSIC, he pushed it out to 93-03.25.

His hammer marks have been harder to revise.  McCullough had a 256-09 in mid-April to start off – not a PR, but further than anyone else has thrown.  He was over 250 again with 251-10 at the Cali State Hammer Champs in June.  He passed on NON, then went to USATF Jrs, where he was just short of his USR with the heavier implement with a 247-00.  But then in July, he got in an open meet at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista CA, and threw the 16-pound hammer 219-07, beating Jake Freeman’s 10-year-old mark and completing his sweep of the four prep hammer marks (he also holds the “Youth” hammer mark of 263-09).  Finally, forgoing the Pam Am Juniors trip he had earned, he threw 254-10, his second best of the year, to win USATF JOs and set the meet record there.

Sam Crouser

In a year with four 70-foot shot-putters, and a national record in the discus, it’s been hard for javelinists (and hammer throwers) to grab as much attention – not to mention the fact that the javelin isn’t contested in every state and bears the statistical burden of having an implement change in the last 25 years.  But the fact is, this year has been fantastic for the event, yielding the 2nd, 3rd and 7th-best throwers in the history of the new spear.  When the dust had cleared, Sam Crouser – as a Gresham OR junior – stood at the top of the heap. 

The Crouser family is amazing in and of itself; younger cousin Ryan won two World Youth titles this summer and the boys’ fathers and uncle were all national class throwers in the 80s.  Sam and Ryan’s grandfather was an outstanding jav thrower as well.  Sam began the year having thrown 209-04, the #2 soph in the country in 2008 and #5 returnee overall.  He quickly buried that PR, then in early May exploded out to 226-07, moving atop the national list and #8 all-time.  The next day he dropped a spot, however, as Justin Shirk PA boomed a 235-03, #2 all-time. 

But Crouser was far from done.  In the 6A State Meet, he fired the jav 231-01, for #5 all-time, and also medaled in the shot and discus, events that he would reach 56-03 and 178-05 for the year.  He didn’t go to Greensboro for the Nike meet, but stayed home to prepare for USATF Jrs.  Two weeks before that meet, he fired a stunning 239-00 at the Concordia Throws meet in OR, moving to #2 all-time and US#1 for the season, perfect prep for what he’d do two weeks later.  In Eugene, he faced a great field, including NON champ Devin Bogert and Shirk, but beat them all with 220-05.  That earned him a trip to the upcoming Pan-Am Games to get in one more effort for the year.

Stephen Saenz

In this year of otherworldly throwing, especially in the boys shot put, Saenz was always in the mix, never far from the top, and often leading the charge.  The smallest of 2009’s four 70-footers, Saenz was hardly a small guy, but had to rely more on speed and technique.  He was perhaps more intent on following his competition all year and intensely competitive, but also perhaps the most social of the quartet.  If the 70-foot club had a spokesperson, it would probably be him.

The Rion Grande City TX senior was the first of the group to really scare 70 feet this year, hitting a big PR 69-07.75 at the Carl Lewis Invite on January 17.  That was his only indoor meet before nationals, but of course, the outdoor season starts in mid-February in Texas.  Still, his year was low key until the final day of NIN.  With Nick Vena having hit the year’s first 70-footer at NSIC in New York, Saenz responded with a massive 71-00.50 PR, taking US#1 for the season and becoming #3 all-time.  Three weeks later, though, in his only in-season meeting with TX rival Hayden Baillio, he suffered a tough loss, throwing 68-11.50 while Baillio was going 72-02.25 for a then-US#1.

By his mid-May region meet, though, Saenz moved back on top of the US list with a 72-06.50 boomer.  He then won 5A state at 69-01.75 (Baillio was in 3A), though his national lead fell to Vena the next week.  Finally, the battle of the 70-footers was set for NON and it wound up bittersweet for Saenz.  He had his best series ever and the best among his competitors – 66-09, 70-10.75, 71-06, 70-03.75, 68-10.75, 70-01.50 – but Mason Finley’s winner was a few inches further than his best.  He added a long-sought DT 200-footer (200-02) for 2nd there.  Finally, he was 4th in the SP and 6th in the DT at USATF Jrs.

Nick Vena

There’s rarely been as much interest and attention paid to the prep shot put as there was this year, with the epic quartet of 70-footers, but attention was certainly nothing new for Vena.  Barely a week into 2008, early in his 9th-grade indoor season, Vena broke the freshman national shot put record – and he hasn’t slowed since.  He was past 66 feet by the end of that season, and up to nearly 68 feet by the end of outdoors.  He started this past indoor season the same way and there was no doubt he would be part of this legendary year for the big guys.

The Morristown NJ soph’s first real breakthrough in 2009 came at Eastern States, when he improved to a then-US#2 68-11.  He chose NSIC for indoor nationals and boomed his first 70-footer there, reaching 70-05.  At NIN, however, Stephen Saenz would top that mark by 7.50 inches to retake the US lead.  Vena then turned his attention to outdoors, and it was at the famed Penn Relays that he again shook the track world, throwing a then-US#1 72-02.50, and taking the meet record, US soph record, and NJ state record down with one big heave.  It was so epic, that it overshadowed the relays (at least for a while) at the greatest relay meet in the world. 

The fabulous game of one-upmanship continued and Vena again found himself US#2 going into the NJ Meet of Champs.  But with the best series of the career, he again moved to the top.  He started with 68-08 ½, followed by 70-11 ½, 71-08 ¼, 71-01, 70-08 before a bomb of 72-08.  That propelled him to the clash of the titans at Nike Outdoor, where he met his three fellow 70-footers.  He never looked comfortable in the ring that day, but still managed a 70-07 for 3rd.  Still, it closed out an amazing year.  Vena had eight meets over 70 feet, indoors and out, more than his three big rivals combined.

Hayden Baillio

Baillio was one of five athletes coming into the year that had already thrown over 66 feet for the shot in their career, an almost unheard of number.  While he didn’t get off to as fast a start as his some of his comrades, or have as many big meets as others, he did have two peak efforts that won’t soon be forgotten by those who witnessed them.

Baillio had a PR 67-01.50 indoors at Texas Tech in February, then had a rather quiet 2nd place finish behind Saenz at NIN with a 66-06.50.  Fans couldn’t have been ready for the explosion that followed three weeks later.  At the Texas Relays, in his only meeting with Saenz in Texas, the Whitesboro TX senior was a man possessed, dominating the ring and getting out to 72-02.25, suddenly shooting past his rivals into the national lead and then-#6 all-time, leaving Saenz more than three feet back.  He also got his first career 200 footer in the discus, winning with 202-11.

But Baillio struggled to reach 70 feet again.  He went over 69 in both his district and region meets, adding a 205-10 DT in the former.  At state, he easily won 3A with 68-07.25.  Finally, at Nike Outdoor, he faced the year’s other 70-footers in a showdown for the ages.  Baillio had the distance to win, but not the form, as he went out of the ring on two long attempts.  He was 4th with 68-00.50, a tough disappointment.  He didn’t want to end the season like that, however, and worked for weeks to get his form in check.  In late July, he went to the TAAF Games of Texas and produced a performance that shook the track world out of its summer slumber: 75-04.75, part of a series that went 66-05.50, 72-03, 75-04.75, 71-11.25, 72-03, 73-00.50.  Suddenly, he was #3 all-time, throwing further than any prep in the country since Brent Noon in 1990.  He’ll give it one more whirl at the State Games of America in Colorado, July 30-Aug. 2.

Honorable Mention

Ryan Crouser – In a year of unfathomable throwing stats and achievements, one of the most amazing was this:  Ryan Crouser, Barlow OR soph, fires the shot 67-07 as a 10th-grader, a mark that many years would be the top 2-3 overall in the country, and he’s more than five feet behind the best sophomore.  Still, in 2009, nothing was going to hold Crouser back.  If he couldn’t set a US soph record in one event, he’d do it in another – at the Last Chance Throwsday meet, he bashed through the 200-foot barrier with 202-06, taking yet another Kevin Bookout mark off the books.  And, with the lighter Youth shot, he ruled the world … literally.  His 70-09 won the World Youth title and he also took silver in the discus.  He also threw 200-08 for the JT.

Alec Faldermeyer – With Conor McCullough and now-graduated Walter Henning dominating headlines in the sport the last few years, it’s tough for a 230-foot hammer thrower to get attention, even if he’s a national champ and would be US#1 a lot of years.  But Faldermeyer, a Minisink Valley NY junior, has certainly tried.  He actually threw a 222-06 PR in a September meet, redefining “taking the early national lead,” and held it through mid-April.  Meanwhile, he led the weight list all indoor until McCullough began his onslaught.  Faldermeyer was 2nd at both NIN and NSIC, hitting a PR 79-07.25 in the latter, #7 all-time.  Outdoors, he chipped away at 230, moving to 228-01, then taking a McCullough-less NON with 227-06.  Justin Welch passed him for US#2 just before NON, but Faldy got it back with a 232-07 at Hammerama July 19, for #8 all-time.  In between, he made the World Youth team and was 6th in Italy with the lighter implement.

Justin Shirk – Shirk, who was #2 in the nation as both a soph and a junior in the javelin, rose to #2 in history with the implement in early May when he cranked a 235-03.  Just a week earlier, the Central Dauphin PA senior had claimed the Penn Relays javelin title with a 220-03, and his new mark broke through the news about great shot and discus throws at that point in the season, as if to say, Hey, the javelin throwers are worth watching, too!  He also claimed his state meet title with 212-10, but then had some late-season struggles that led to a 2nd at NON (206-06) and 7th at USATF Jrs (201-00).

Devin Bogert – Bogert, a home-schooled athlete from Tomball TX who competes for the Northwest Flyers, wasn’t on the national radar at season’s start … but what many didn’t know is that the former USATF Youth champ had been injured much of his freshman year.  While he is one of the least physically imposing throwers among the elites, he uses technique and a baseball background to excel.  He quickly broke the 200-foot barrier with the HS 800kg implement, then at Great Southwest, took a big improvement out to 216-08.  In tough conditions at NON, he threw 208-03 to beat 235-footer Justin Shirk PA and a solid field.  He went on to qualify for the World Youth Champs and got out to 231-08 for 7th place with the 700kg implement.  He is slated to compete at USATF JOs.

Year-End Awards Index