In each of his 17 years as St. Anthony's weight throw coach, John McCree has sent an athlete to the winter national meet. But even McCree has never seen success quite like the Friars experienced this year. St. Anthony's qualified seven weight throwers -- six boys and one girl -- for this weekend's New Balance Nationals at the Armory.
"It's like catching lightning in a bottle," McCree said Thursday afternoon.
What's even more remarkable about the size of the St. Anthony's contingent is that five of the seven began competing in the event this season. "It's truly a surprise to me," junior Andrew Piracha said. "I never thought this would lead to anything big. It's exciting to compete against people from all over the country."
Piracha began practicing the weight throw as a sophomore, but acquired a significant affinity for the event when he began testing his strength against other competitors this season.
"It's always exciting to put on the singlet that says 'St. Anthony's,' " he said. "It makes me feel like I'm truly representing the school, not only as an athlete, but as a team."
The junior threw the 25-pound weight 40 feet, one quarter of an inch in Friday's emerging elite section of the national meet.
James Leddy, also a junior, threw 56-83/4 in the Friday section, placing seventh. Joe Segreto placed eighth, throwing 55-73/4.
Leddy threw 57-7 at last month's Millrose Games. Also a shot putter, he has adopted the weight throw as his main winter event.
"I like how it goes farther than the shot put," Leddy said. "Seeing it go a little farther just looks better to me. In shot put, you can be a brute and throw far. But with the weight, you need to have some kind of technique."
In addition to strength, quickness is a major component to a winning throw.
"Speed is very important," senior Jack Gamble said. "You have to sit back, go with the flow, and release it as hard as you can."
Gamble and Blake Walton round out the male contingent of the emerging elite qualifiers.
Olivia Seifert competed in the emerging elite girls weight throw, sending the 20-pound weight 37-91/4. Only a freshman, the future looks bright for Seifert.
"I have high hopes," she said. "I hope to win nationals by my junior or senior year."
Senior Chris Pensa will compete in Sunday's championship throw during the final day of the meet. It will be his first time competing at nationals.
"I'm excited," he said. "I'm hoping to place All-American [top six]."