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TRACK | Van Amen claims state championship
TACOMA — He has stood on the podium with a medal dangling from the red, white and blue ribbon resting against his neck at several regional and national competitions.
But none meant more to South Kitsap freshman Nolan Van Amen than the first Class 4A state championship he earned Friday at Mount Tahoma in the discus with a throw of 160 feet, 10 inches.
“This is a lot bigger than nationals,” said Van Amen, who spun the discus 204-11 last summer to set a national age group (13-14) record in the Track City International Classic at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field. “Instead of going against people that are the same age as me I’m going against people that are three or four years older than me. I’m just really happy.”
Van Amen’s winning mark came on his first throw. He said he was comfortable with the ring at Mount Tahoma, where he had a season-best mark (172-07) during an April 9 meet. Van Amen was sixth in the discus (145-03) during last week’s West Central/Southwest Bi-District meet at French Field in Kent.
“The week before this I was in kind of a rut,” he said. “But then the last time I practiced [Thursday], I was 100 percent and I was throwing pretty good. I knew coming in that I was going to be all right.”
South co-coach Paul Zimmer said he was surprised that Van Amen’s throw was enough to win the title. He noted that most of the competitors entered state with marks in the 170s — and a couple were even better than that.
“It was really surprising that 160 would’ve won that,” Zimmer said. “If you had told me that at the end of the season or even a week ago, I don’t think that would’ve been the idea.
“The pressure of competition takes a toll on guys. You can see with this field it did.”
Van Amen said he also was surprised that his first throw was enough to win the championship. Because that mark qualified him for the finals, Van Amen was forced to sit out another qualifying flight, which he believed affected his performance.
That might not have been his only disadvantage. Field events, such as the discus, often are dominated by upperclassmen. For example, the top six placers in last year’s 4A state discus were seniors. Van Amen became the first underclassmen to win the 4A state discus title since Ferris sophomore Damon Unland in 2011.
That could be attributed to strength.
“Even though I’m a freshman I’ve still been throwing longer than a lot of these people,” said Van Amen, who said he is 6 foot 2 and about 230 pounds. “I just try to use my technique as much as I can. Strength will come later.”
The discus was the only state event for Van Amen, who scratched on all three of his throws in the shot put during the 4A Narrows League Championships at Shelton.
“I was really upset for a little while, but then I started thinking about it and that gave me a lot more time to practice in disc,” he said. “I think overall it helped a lot.”
Van Amen might not compete in another sport before next track and field season. He played football during the fall, but suffered a concussion and said he won’t return to that sport. Van Amen said he might consider competing in water polo, which South will add as a varsity sport in the fall.
While Van Amen mulls his future at the high school, a teammate concluded his athletic tenure at the school. Marcus Burk, who also played for the Wolves’ football team, finished fifth in the discus (154-11). Burk scratched on all three of his throws last year at state.
“Happy,” he said. “Way better than I did last year.”
Burk even enjoyed the windy conditions.
“The wind didn’t really bother me,” he said. “I thought it was a great day to throw, actually.”
Zimmer said having two placers in one event drew some attention from his peers. But he said the credit should be given to Van Amen and Burk.
“I love questions asked [about] what we’re doing over here at South,” Zimmer said. “We’re not doing anything special that anyone else isn’t doing. Those kids perform.”