Genoa graduate and University of Kentucky junior thrower Brad Szypka didn’t underestimate the mental boost he got from winning the Southeastern Conference indoor track and field shot put title.
Winning the gold medal at the SEC meet on March 1 in College Station, Texas, was just what Szypka needed before heading off to compete at the NCAA Division I Indoor Championships March 14-15 in Albuquerque, N.M.
“I came in (to the SEC meet) ranked No. 1 and I was leading the SEC the entire year,” said the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Szypka. “Coming in, I kind of had a target on my back. I was consistent all year, over 63 feet. A lot of guys were 61 or 62 (feet) and I told myself they’re going to have to PR to beat me. I just told myself to do what I do and that would be good enough to win. That’s what I ended up doing.”
Szypka captured his first SEC title by throwing the 16-pound shot 63-10.5, becoming the first Kentucky athlete to win the conference shot put title in a decade.
|Brad Szypka(Courtesy of the University of Kentucky)|
“I ended up winning by like nine inches,” Szypka said. “I led the whole meet. It was amazing. My coach (Andrew Ninow) and I talked about it and said this was my year to step it up and win it. It was an amazing experience to step up there and represent UK.”
Last Monday, Szypka became one of nine UK track and field athletes to earn All-America honors for the 2014 indoor season by the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA). He was the Wildcats’ lone male first-team honoree.
Two days earlier, Szypka placed fifth at the NCAA national meet in New Mexico, throwing the shot a personal-best 64-0.25. He earned the UK men’s team its only four points of the meet.
Szypka sat in ninth place going into his third and final attempt in the preliminary round. Only the top eight placers advanced to the finals. That’s when he threw his personal best. His previous best indoor throw this season was 63-11.
“I was just under 62 and mid-61 on my first two throws,” Szypka said. “I wasn’t coming out of the back of the throw well. I was slipping and the wind was pretty fast. I was chatting with all of the other throwers – we’re all good friends – and the middle of the ring was the tackiest, roughest (area). I was lining up a little to the left. I said, ‘I got this.’ I went in my third throw and shifted more to the middle and came off the back and pushed a little harder.
“It wasn’t a pretty throw, but I got through it a little better. I was shocked. I wasn’t having a great meet; a lot of us were struggling. I thought it was just another 62- or 63-foot throw, but then I thought, ‘wow, it’s still in the air!’ It finally landed over the 64-foot mark and I was like, ‘wow, will you look at that.’ That put me in second at that point, so I was in second going into the finals.”
Szypka said competing against his SEC rivals during the season helped his confidence heading into the national meet.
“When you look at the SEC and the Big Ten, we’re the top two throw conferences in the nation,” Szypka said. “We have the deepest conferences. To score in our conference it took 61 feet, and you don’t see that in any other conference. Our top eight SEC guys were all (ranked) in the top 25 in the nation. When I walked into Nationals, I knew I could compete.”
Even though he was ranked 11th in the nation heading into Nationals, Szypka said, “I knew I could do some damage.”
“I knew I had 64 feet in me,” he said. “I told myself what I was going to do. I took fifth and threw 64 feet. I walked in with a lot of confidence, knowing I was one of the top shot-putters in the nation. With a really good day, I thought I could be top three. I’m happy with fifth place, but I’m not satisfied with it.”
Szypka said he fouled on three of his throws in the final round.
“I was chasing it more and pushing a little harder, and all of the throws were landing at 62 (feet),” he said. “I was missing a few technical things because I was a little amped up. I just fouled the last three on purpose. It was what it was, and I was satisfied with it.”
Szypka, 21, who is majoring in secondary education, has high hopes for the outdoor season, which has already started. Szypka qualfied for the NCAA national outdoor meet as a sophomore and missed the finals by one spot, finishing 10th with a throw of 60-11.25.
Kentucky’s men’s and women’s teams headed to Phoenix on Wednesday to begin training for the outdoor season.
“I’ll take a little break from the shot until we go to Texas in a few weeks,” Szypka said. “We’ll be competing Saturday at the University of Arizona to begin our outdoor season. I’m throwing the discus there. The week after that we will be at the University of Texas and I’ll throw the shot there. That’s one of the biggest track meets of the year and there will be good competition. It will be a good chance for me to open up with a big (throw) and get my qualifying mark for regionals.”