Vena launches 70-footer, Beach US #2 all-time in Pentathlon

By Christopher Hunt

photos by and Don Rich/

More often than not, throwers stomp into the circle like an angry adolescent, perform their pre-throw ritual and send the shot put into the air then release a scream that hopes to frighten the ball a few inches farther.

But Morristown sophomore Nick Vena slipped into the throwers cage on light feet. He grinded the shot put into his chalk-covered neck until his jaw shifted right. A quick two turns and the ball took flight without even a grunt, just the sshhhh of his feet sliding across the circle. It hung forever and dropped with a thud. The official called 21.46 meters. No one reacted, unsure what the metric mark meant.

It meant 70 feet, 5 inches, making Vena the fourth-best thrower in the country all-time and handing him the best throw in the nation this season. He lightly clapped his hands and raised two triumphant fists above his head. That would be all he needed to win the national championship at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships and improve his junior class national record and the facility record at the New Balance Track and Field Center.

“They said I’ve hit 70 in practice,” Vena said. “I’m really glad I got it to count today.”

Vena said the ball felt great coming out of his hands. He knew he had a solid throw and even if he couldn’t immediately convert the metric measurement, he knew he had never thrown 21 meters before. Still, 70 feet was a mark he aimed toward all season.

“I felt really into it,” he said. “I was warming up for a while. I didn’t think they’d give us that long to warm up. But maybe it was a good thing.”

Vena’s second throw went 69-2, which was still beyond his previous personal best of 68-11.

“It just makes me feel like I can throw farther,” Vena said.

The national record is 74-11 set by Brent Noon of Fallbrook, Calif. in 1990. Vena said he’s not looking that far ahead though.

“We have time for that,”’ the sophomore said. “We’ll see.”

Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake added another national championship to the collection by defending its title in the girls 4x1-mile relay. Rachael Cyrus (5:18.3), Molly Pezzulo (5:01.5), Sam Roecker (5:02.6) and Meaghan Gregory (5:00.7) finished in 20:23.06.

The relay is exactly the same as last year’s winner which held a special significance because the race was Cyrus’s first of the indoor season. Cyrus suffered a stress fracture in her left leg during cross country season and has tendonitis in her right leg. The team wasn’t sure she’d run until two days before the meet.

“I had done so much cross training I didn’t want it to go to waste,” Cyrus said.

Roecker said: “Rachael is the most dedicated girl on our team. She’s spent so much time in the pool, on the bike, so much time watching us practice and race. It wouldn’t have been the same without her.”

Cyrus said all her training this winter was in preparation to defend Burnt Hills national 4x1-mile championship. She never second-guessed whether she was healthy enough to compete and help the team.

“It really just felt good to race,” she said. “When you have three 5-minute milers behind you, it gives you a good amount of confidence.”

Amity (Conn.) won the boys 4x1-mile relay in 17:48.99 with Ryan Laemel (4:26.7), Michael Bhatt (4:27.6), Adam Trofa (4:29.3) and John Cocco (4:25.4). Laemel handed off the baton with the lead and the team never handed it back.

“We weren’t sure if we’d have the lead or not,” Bhatt said. “We knew we were the most consistent team out there.”

Amity didn’t have the horse to put the stamp on the race but they simply held a pace throughout that other teams couldn’t match. Cocco said none of the relay members are primarily milers but they knew they had a shot together.

“We knew from the beginning we had four good milers,” he said. “But all of us were either moving up or down.”

In the girls pole vault, Ariane Beaumont-Courteau of Montreal, Quebec cleared a personal-best 13-4.25.

“When I jumped, my run; my plant was perfect,” she said. “I’m really happy about today.”

Curtis Beach of Albequerque, N.M. defended his national title in the pentathlon with 4,127 points, the second-best performance in U.S. history. Beach said he came in with a goal of breaking 4,000 points and had 3,150 after four events. Then he dropped a 2:30.90 in the 1,000 meters, the final event of the day. He said he’d be feeling sick most of the week which usually plays havoc with his asthma. But it didn’t seem to affect him at all.

“The 1,000 was the only thing I was worried about,” he said. “I just wanted to do my best and I’d be happy with that.”

Beach said last year that he put a lot more pressure on himself by analyzing event-by-event, doing the math, working out the points.

“I wanted to just do my best and whatever happened, happened,” he said. “That’s the attitude I wanted to have and this meet proved that it works.”

Saniel Atkinson of Bishop McNamara (Forestville, Md.) won the girls pentathlon with 3,582 points. She was trailing until the 800 when she latched on to Allison Reaser (El Segundo, Calif.). Atkinson finished second in the event but the 778 points she earned put her ahead of Lorraine Graham (Springdale, Md.) for the win.

“If it wasn’t for (Reaser) I don’t know what would have happened,” Atkinson said. “I’m going to go over and thank Allison once I can feel my legs again.”

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