Looks like Mo Saatara’s Cal Berkeley throws squad–aka Mo’s Maulers, aka the Berkeley Bangers, aka…sorry, I’ll stop–is the real deal. After showing up huge at the Brutus Hamilton Invite on April 8th, Mo’s group–the Cal Crushers?–performed prodigiously once again at last weekend’s Mt. SAC relays. Could this be a developing trend? Let’s examine.
Men’s Hammer–Collegiate Division
Kegan Schroeter broke the 70-meter barrier for the first time to take the win. His series (66.71m, 69.20m, 69.03m, 70.21m, foul, foul) showed that Coach Saatara’s emphasis on developing consistent technique is paying off.
Mo is not an advocate of the haul ass and hope for the best style of throwing. “It all comes down to stability,” he explained. “If you are steady and consistent, then one of your throws is eventually going to go.”
It’s a good sign when your old PB (in Kegan’s case 69.33m) becomes a routine throw. It’s also a good sign when you break a school record that has stood for thirty-seven years.
Keegan is going to have to work to keep his spot on top of the board though, as Mo’s hammer group includes another potential 70-meter man in Ivar Moisander (69.05m PB), who finished fourth at Mt. SAC with a toss of 66.33m.
Mo says that Ivar showed solid technique at Mt. SAC, but lacked some of his usual explosiveness due to a recent illness. He predicts though, that Ivar will be ready for the championship season (PAC-12s, regionals, NCAAs). According to Mo, Ivar “loves the big meets” and is a solid bet to hit 70 meters when it counts the most.
A third Golden Bear hammer thrower, Michael Gupta (63.69m PB) also competed at Mt. SAC, finishing fifteenth. Mo credits Michael with contributing to the healthy chemistry that exists among the hammer folk at Cal. A computer science major, Michael “sets a great example of how to balance academics and athletics” and possesses a “deep understanding” of the event. Anyone looking for a solid theoretical conversation about hammer technique should, according to Mo, give Michael a call.
Men’s Discus–Elite Invitational
Young Mykolas Alekna, is on track to become one of the best ever in his event. Mykolas, the 2022 World silver medalist and European champion, shook the Brutus with a 68.39m bomb, and then followed that up with a 68.35m toss at Mt. SAC to take the win..
The lanky Lithuanian looked solid in warmups but, according to Mo, began pressing a bit once the comp began. Hitting the cage on his “best technical throw” did not help matters, and Mykolas was never quite able to find his rhythm.
Lord knows what will happen once he does, but one NCAA opponent who will try to provide some competition is Arkansas’s Rojé Stona, a transfer from Clemson who broke the Razorback school record at Mt. SAC with a toss of 66.64m.
Great Britain’s Lawrence Okoye finished third here, as he did the last time he faced Alekna–at the 2022 European Championships.
Okoye–large, strong, explosive, large–is legendary for his physical gifts and inconsistency. During warmups, Mo told his kids to keep an eye on the bulging Brit as he is always capable of hitting a big throw. His series–foul, 66.15m, foul, 62.58m, foul, 59.00m–was a typical all-or-nothing outing for Okoye. Alekna, by way of comparison, backed up his 68.35m with three additional throws over 65 meters, and all of Stona’s five measured throws were between 64.41m and 66.64m.
Cal’s Iffy Joyner finished seventh with a best of 59.23m. As described in an earlier piece on the Brutus, Iffy has been plagued by a knuckle injury on his throwing hand, but Mo believes they have finally found a way to tape and pad the swollen joint that will allow him to throw normally. During the week leading up to Mt. SAC, Iffy was able to resume training with heavy discs (2.5-3.0 kilos), which was an integral part of his routine in the past. Mo says that Iffy “feels like he is getting back to where he needs to be,” which is perfect timing with PAC-12s less than a month away.
Women’s Hammer–Elite Invitational
Cal grad Camryn Rogers, now representing Canada as one of “Mo’s pros,” began her professional career at the Brutus by launching 77.30m to take the world lead. She extended that mark at Mt. SAC with a 77.84m opener.
Mo appreciated the bomb, but was even happier with Rogers’ series (77.84m, 75.61m, 76.79m, 76.03m, 75.37m, 77.14m), which displayed the level of consistency he deems critical to anyone wanting to climb the podium at an international championships.
“If you look at the great champions,” he says, “they had stable technique that they could repeat. That allowed them to produce big throws multiple times in a competition. And with the level they are at right now in the women’s hammer, you’ll very likely need to throw 79.00-80.00m to contend for a medal.”
Speaking of major championships, Camryn approached Mt. SAC as if it were the final at a Worlds or Olympics.
After performing a general warmup away from the track, she sat down and chilled for an hour as athletes are forced to do when confined to a call room at the big comps. She then took only two warmup throws in the cage prior to her flight.
Mo says that the “environment at a championships is very different than at a normal comp. You have the call room and very limited warmups in the ring, and athletes need practice in dealing with that. If you get used to taking a bunch of warmup throws at all your other competitions, it can be a shock when you only get two at Worlds. You have to use each competition to develop the skills you’ll need to throw well at the big ones.”
Anna Purchase made a huge breakthrough at the Brutus, launching a 73.02m missile to take the NCAA lead by nearly three meters. You can probably guess Mo’s advice going into Mt. SAC.
“Let’s pepper the 70-meter line this week,” he told her. “Keep building stability. There will be more peak throws coming if you can keep raising the level of your average throws.”
Mission accomplished. Anna took second at Mt. SAC with a series–69.25m, foul, 69.97m, foul, 69.29m, foul–which represented an improvement over her marks at the Brutus–66.57m, 73.02m, 68.15m, 68.80m, pass, pass–with the exception of the big blast.
Mo and Anna will work to elevate her “average” even more with the hope that she can unleash another corker at the NCAA Championships in June.
Men’s Shot–Elite Invitational
Cal’s Jeff Duensing (19.39m PB, 18.91m SB) came to Mt. SAC looking to get some experience at a high-caliber meet. He threw 18.06m and finished twelfth, but Mo believes the trip was fully worthwhile. “This was his first big invite,” he explained. “Jeff has only done college meets before this, and he needed to get a taste of how you have to step up if you want to compete against the best.”
The “best” in the men’s shot turned out to be Arizona’s Jordan Geist, who seems to be following the advice I would give to all college students–Don’t leave!
Geist was the 2018 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, has scored several jillion points for his Wildcats during the intervening years, and hopes to end his NCAA career with an outdoor shot put (and possibly hammer) title to match the indoor crown he won this March.
He grabbed the top spot here with an NCAA-leading toss of 21.25m, and Mo says Geist is in excellent form.
“Jordan,” he surmised, “is learning to manage his speed across the circle. Camryn had to go through the same process in the hammer. She can turn really fast, but at one point I said to her ‘That’s nice, but nobody cares how fast you can move. They care how far the hammer goes.’ Jordan creates a tremendous amount of rotational power, and sometimes maybe he struggled to use it properly, but he’s figuring that out, which will make him very hard to beat.”
Women’s Discus–Elite Invitational
Cal volunteer assistant coach Elena Bruckner broke the 60-meter barrier for the first time at the Brutus, then surpassed it twice more at Mt. SAC, producing a series–57.29m, 60.79m, 57.24m, 61.51m, 59.87m, foul–that suggests bigger throws might be coming soon.
This is Bruckner’s second year as one of Mo’s pros, and the 60.26m she threw at the Brutus was her first discus PB since 2019.
That’s a long time to persevere, and Mo gives Elena credit for enduring a painstaking technique renovation last year when she first began training in Berkeley.
Mo says that even with an accomplished thrower, a coach must always start with the basics. “You don’t want to get complicated or get weird right away. If you try to change too much at once, none of it will happen. The first stage is to develop balance. The next stage is learning to carry the disc through the ring without losing your connection to it.”
Once they made progress on those fronts, Bruckner also needed to shore up her mechanics during the release phase.
“She was,” Mo recalls, “just pivoting her knee into the throw, which doesn’t create force. You need to anchor your block and then move the hip (in Bruckner’s case her left hip–she’s a southpaw) around it. Then you generate force.”
The methodical approach was not easy for Bruckner, who came out of high school in 2016 with a 55.67m PB and some big expectations.
“She had a lot of pressure when she was younger,” Mo explained. “And that is not necessarily a good thing. If a kid is talented, they don’t need people hitting them on the head with it. They need guidance, someone to say, ‘If you want to accomplish these things, here is how you do it.’”
Bruckner improved to 57.40m during her time at the University of Texas, and after exhausting her NCAA eligibility sought a fresh start in Berkeley.
She showed a lot of moxie as she and Mo went through the often tedious process of drilling fundamentals in 2022. “It was not easy,” recalls Mo. “There was a lot of trial and error, a lot of work, and a lot of not knowing if we were on the correct path until we got it right.”
Bruckner’s best mark in 2022 was 55.79m, but she found a nice rhythm during fall practices and has been able to build on that this spring.
Those two will likely be competing at the Worlds in Belgrade this summer, and if Bruckner continues to climb, she just might join them.
In the meantime, don’t sleep on Mo’s Monsters! The Clubbers of Cal? The Berkeley Bashers? I’ll work on it.