Williamsville South’s Devon Patterson, Orchard Park’s Dawson Hillis and Lancaster’s Tony DeYoung and Brandon Sicurella have all met the state qualifying standard for the shot put by a considerable distance.
At least one of these four seniors, however, will be reduced to the role of cheerleader after next month’s Section VI indoor track and field state qualifying meet. That’s because the section is allowed to send a maximum of three athletes in each event to the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association/Federation championship meet March 2 at Cornell University.
The top two finishers at the qualifier Feb. 21 at Fredonia State automatically go to the state meet, while the third-place finisher also gets a spot on the bus to Ithaca provided he/she met the state qualifying standard either at sectionals or at some point during the season.
“Somebody’s going to be left behind. That’s the tough part,” said George Rak, the throwing coach at Lancaster who also works with the aforementioned throwers as well as other top ones from area schools. “We can only bring three of them but when you look at (distances from) across the state, they should all be there.”
That’s not the only event in which Section VI athletes have excelled early and met the state standard. The same more-qualifiers-than-spots dilemma exists in the girls pole vault as three seniors – Lockport’s Kristen Sawyer (10-9), Jamestown’s Mikeyla Capestrani (10-6) and Iroquois’ Madison Roberts (10-6) – and Amherst sophomore Aubrey Rockoff (10-3) exceeded the state qualifying mark with room to spare.
“You’ve got to be good all the way through,” said longtime Lancaster coach Kevin Carriero. “The kids understand that, and that’s how we prepare them. … It is a microcosm of what we see at the Olympic Trials. … U.S. Olympians will medal at the Olympics.” But sometimes “the toughest meet is just getting out of the trials.”
Patterson is an All-American and defending state champion as he captured the crown last March with a toss of 60 feet, 1 inch. He has the top throw in Western New York this season at 62-2ø, which ranks second in the state to Smithtown West’s Benjamin Bonhurst, whose top throw is 64-1.
DeYoung (57-2ø) and Sicurella (54-9ø) both qualified for states last season, with Sicurella placing second with a personal-best throw of 55-1.
Hillis has gone to states before – in Illinois as a freshman, placing ninth in the discus for Carrollton High.
His family moved to Orchard Park before his junior year. While he’s improved by practicing with and competing against great competition, he knows he has much work still to do if he wants to earn a spot at states.
“The competition here is much higher,” said Hillis, who has the third-best throw in the area at 56-2. “We all push each other.”
Hillis, who has received interest from Army, Rhode Island and Monmouth (Ill.) College, said working out daily with the top competition is something that didn’t happen back in Illinois. Throwers may have known who to look out for in a meet, but in Western New York they’re pretty much high-fiving each other during practice sessions in the Lancaster Fieldhouse.
Sicurella said he has to remind himself to “hate” his three friends when he’s in the throwing circle. That’s harder to do than throwing the weighted ball.
“We’re all really close,” said Sicurella, who hit his season-best distance two weeks ago at the Dartmouth College Relays. “You love them outside the circle. You get in, you have to try to hate them and beat them, but it’s hard because you’re all so close.”
Sicurella’s motivation for returning to states is the disappointment he felt during the outdoor season last spring. He was on the outside looking in among the section’s qualifiers for states.
“I went down in the dumps and didn’t bring myself up at all,” he said. “It’s kind of been the same, this indoor season.”
That is until two Saturdays ago at Dartmouth, where he recorded his second-best effort ever in the shot (54-9ø).
“I’m starting to feel it again,” he said. “I’m feeling good.”
So is DeYoung, who threw around 53 feet last year but has broken the school record twice this season – most recently at Dartmouth with a throw of 57-2ø.
He said he started getting serious about throwing last year and increased his distance from 47 to 53 feet, but he kind of leveled off during outdoor as he remained stuck around 53 feet.
It’s all come together for him this year, though, with the help of friends.
“It just makes practice that (much) more fun knowing that these are going to be the guys you’re battling against to go to the state meet,” he said. “It makes you work harder. It makes you want to be better.”
The dream scenario: Everyone posts a personal-best at sectionals. Someone’s season will still end, but the sting will be somewhat alleviated by a personal record. But the mind-set to take into the meet is the one DeYoung’s using for motivation.
“Get in the circle and have the attitude that I’m not going to be the one to stay at home,” DeYoung said.