I’m old enough to remember a time when really smart kids spent their weekends building robots or arguing about which is the coolest prime number. These days, they seem focused on establishing total dominance over the world of NCAA throwing. Last week, I detailed the exploits of Harvard’s huckers at the Florida Relays. Now, we turn our attentions to the brawny brainiacs of Cal Berkeley who dominated the recent Brutus Hamilton Invite held at their home stadium.
Cal throws coach Mo Saatara described the Brutus Hamilton as “kind of a test meet,” and hammer thrower Kegan Schroeter set the curve early with a 67.86m toss for the win. Schroeter, a transfer from Brown whom Coach Saatara describes as a “big talent and a great guy,” came close to his 69.33m PB in spite of the fact that the hammer guys were still in “heavy training” in the weeks leading up to the meet.
Cal’s other 69-meter hammer dude, Ivar Moisander, sat this one out due to a bout with the flu.
Max McKhann of Stanford, took second behind Schroeter with a toss of 65.39m.
Camryn Rogers, who won three NCAA titles for Cal, began her pro career at the Brutus with a world-leading throw of 77.30m.
After an incredibly successful 2022 season–NCAA title, NCAA record, World Championships silver–Camryn and Mo sat down to figure out what they could do to make 2023 even better. “We decided,” Mo says, “that she needed to make her technique more stable so she could easily replicate it. She also needed to start performing better in early rounds to take some of the pressure off during qualification at the major championships like Worlds.”
Camryn’s series–77.00m, 76.04m, 77.30m, Pass, Pass, Pass–suggests that they are already making progress.
The three passes look odd on the stat sheet, but Mo explained that they were part of the plan going in. “We wanted to treat this like a qualification round, where you know you only have three throws to hit the standard or at least put yourself in the top twelve. Qualification rounds have caused her a lot of stress in the past, so If we can make her more confident in her ability to produce big throws early, it will be easier for her to feel comfortable going into a final.”
And as Mo sees it, Camryn will need all the comfort she can muster at the Worlds this summer in Belgrade, which he predicts will be “amazingly competitive,” in part because Anita Wlodarczyk (3x Olympic, 4x European, and 4x World champ) and DeAnna Price (2019 World champ, second to Anita on the all time list) should be healthy after suffering derailment-by-injury last season.
The field will also include 2022 World Championship gold medalist Brooke Andersen, who will receive a bye into the 2023 Worlds, and likely Janee’ Kassanavoid, the 2022 bronze medalist, provided she makes it through what promises to be an extremely competitive USA Trials in July.
With a lineup like that, Mo says he would not be surprised to see “multiple” throws over 80 meters in Belgrade.
Cal’s Anna Purchase took second on Saturday with a huge 73.02m PB that might set her up to join Rogers in Belgrade. Purchase represents Great Britain internationally, and is already close to the 73.60m automatic qualifying mark for Worlds.
Mo attributes Anna’s breakthrough to the hard work they’ve put in strengthening and standardizing her throwing form the past two years. “It’s critical to be stable in your technique,” he explained. “Then you can go into a big competition and just throw as you normally do and not try to make a superhuman effort.”
Purchase’s series–66.57m, 73.02m, 68.15m, 68.80m, Pass, Pass–showed that she still has work to do regarding her consistency, but a PB of nearly two-and-a-half meters is an encouraging sign.
Mo intended to limit Anna to three throws as he did with Rogers, but promised her she could take a fourth attempt if she “did great” early on.
“I actually thought her fourth throw was her best technically,” he says. “But she was completely gassed from jumping around and celebrating the 73.02m.”
And who could blame her? That toss put her atop the NCAA leaderboard for 2023 and moved her to fifth place all-time in her event.
Cal’s Jake Porter rolled his ankle earlier this spring, but relied on what Mo describes as his “blue collar” work ethic to get back into fighting trim. His best of 17.64m got him first at the Brutus over the “two Niks,” or possibly the “two Nicks.” That would be Nik Iwankiw, and Nick Godbehere, two talented redshirt freshmen for whom Mo has high hopes.
His best putter, Jeff Duensing (19.39m PB) did not compete due to a case of food poisoning he picked up the previous weekend after finishing seventh at the Texas Relays.
However lousy Duensing felt after dining at the Austin Airport, the top men’s discus throwers in the world had to feel worse upon hearing that Mykolas Alekna opened his season with 68.39m– the second best throw in NCAA history.
Alekna, the World silver medalist and European Champion, started with a foul and told Mo that throwing in the ring where he practices every day made him forget for a minute that he was supposed to save these throws. His series also included a 67.89m effort and two more fouls, one of which landed beyond 70 meters.
What’s the deal with this kid?
Mykolas is, according to Mo, very engaged in the process. “People don’t realize how much of his technique is his technique,” he explained. “Mykolas is the driver there. He understands what he is trying to do and why. People think that because the dad (two-time World and Olympic champ Virgilijus Alekna) threw far, of course the son throws far, but if you want to be as good as Mykolas has been, you have to be committed, and he is.”
When the two sat down to decide how they might build on last season, one thing they decided to focus on was improving Mykolas’s finish–specifically, the double support phase of his delivery.
Mo acknowledges that one of Mykolas’s strengths is the way he “catches the disc very early,” but believes they can find “more meters” if Mykolas can accelerate the disc better through the finish rather than just “slapping at it.”
In terms of physical qualities, Mo describes Mykolas as “extremely flexible” with a power output that is “crazy.”
“I would compare him to Koji Murofushi. He is just very explosive, very good at throwing things. Because of his dad, people think Mykolas must be 6’9” or something, but he is more like 6’5”. He has long levers, but all the top discus throwers have long levers. What makes Mykolas special is that he feels and understands the movement very well, and can move things explosively.”
When Mykolas asked Mo to recommend someone he might benefit from watching on video, Mo suggested Ryan Crouser, “because he is always under control, always balanced, always disciplined, never jumping out the front to throw far.”
With another World Championships coming up in August, one challenge for Mo, Mykolas, and Mykolas’s Lithuanian coach Mantas Jusis, is to keep him healthy through both the collegiate and international seasons.
Mo says that with an athlete as explosive as Mykolas, a coach has to be careful not to get “too crazy” during training. “You can’t go to the well too much,” he explained. “It’s better to be more conservative with volume and load so the athlete can keep training and getting better instead of missing time with an injury. Discus throwing is a highly skilled task, and the more time you can spend on it the better you’ll be.”
Iffy Joyner (62.17m PB) can attest to the truth of that statement. Since last season, Iffy has been struggling with arthritis in the middle finger of his throwing hand, which hurts, according to Mo, “in just the wrong spot.”
Iffy finished seventh at the Texas Relays with a toss of 58.48m, and took second at the Brutus with 58.69m. The finger has forced him to give up shot putting, but Mo is optimistic that it won’t be too much of a detriment in the disc. They have a doctor’s note which allows Iffy to pad and tape the knuckle during competitions, and things are going well enough that Mo has encouraged Iffy to continue competing when his eligibility expires this spring.
That is exactly what Elena Bruckner, currently a volunteer assistant at Cal, did when she graduated from Texas two years ago. Elena was not ready to give up throwing, so she moved back to her native California and began training at Cal. This weekend, she surpassed the coveted sixty-meter barrier, tossing 60.26m to take the win.
Mo actually recruited Elena out of high school, and describes her talent level as “insane.”
She is also, in Mo’s words, a “genuinely nice” person whose superpower is her rare combination of elasticity and explosiveness.
Mine is knowing when to end a post. More to come after the busy weekend ahead!