EPENESA SMASHES 200 FEET IN DISCUS: Coach Martin says his potential is “unlimited” in event
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EDWARDSVILLE - The drama has been building on when Edwardsville's A.J. Epenesa would let loose a discus throw that topped 200 feet.
To date in the 2016 track and field season he had been throwing well over 190 feet and creeping closer and closer to the magic 200-foot mark. On Saturday at the Winston Brown Invitational, he hurled a nearly perfect throw that soared past 200 feet to the 206 feet, 5-inch mark. The IHSA state discus record is held by Dan Block of Lake Forest at 208 feet, 11 inches, set in 2009.
The crowd around the discus ring broke out in a big applause after his throw. The people there knew they had just witnessed something special, something they might never see again at an Edwardsville boys’ track and field meet.
The announcer then broadcast that the Epenesa throw was the top high school discus toss in America.
“I woke up feeling kind of sluggish," Epenesa grinned just after the record throw.”
In warmups, Epenesa was anything but sluggish. He tossed two throws over the 190 mark, so it was obvious it was going to be a good day. There was virtually no wind on this perfect, Midwestern April day.
“I set my goal at 200 feet, so I guess my next goal is the state record,” Epenesa said. “I also want to carry on meet to meet. When the sectional meet comes along I want to try to win and I want to win state. I have really enjoyed track and field since my freshman year.”
Matt Martin, the Edwardsville weights coach, has been with A.J. every step of the way in the shot put and discus the past few seasons. For him watching such a special moment in high school sports was emotional. He said this type of thing doesn't happen very often on the sports field.
“It is pretty emotional to be honest when you see the Carbondale kid (Sam Sikon) and A.J., who are two of the best in the country in the shot put and discus throw,” Martin said. “I am old enough to know greatness when I see it. I saw the Carbondale kid toss the shot put 63 feet and some change and then A.J. threw the discus 206 feet. That is the second all-time discus throw ever in the state and that is pretty special.”
Carbondale’s Sikon almost tossed one beyond the end of the shot put pit barrier area with a toss of 63 feet, 11 inches to capture first place.
Martin knows A.J. will have to set another goal and the next one will be the state record of 208 feet, 11 inches.
“I am sure he wants to break the state record,” Martin said. “You have to balance your competitiveness and be realistic. I think he will do it.”
Epenesa said Martin, who coaches him in both track and field and football and Mike Waldo, the Edwardsville basketball coach, are both wonderful to work with through the respective sports seasons.
“The coaches do a good job of helping make it work,” he said of playing three sports.
Epenesa is a rare three-sport star at Edwardsville and was All-State in both football at his defensive end position and basketball as a center. He has made a commitment to attend the University of Iowa and play football.
Coach Martin said Epenesa has virtually no limits what he can do with a discus.
“This is what you have to understand: he has only been throwing for eight or nine months,” he said. “People throw for years before they get to this point. I just keep telling him to keep working and don’t listen to everybody who tells you how special you are. I tell him to be humble and stay satisfied and be hungry. As long as he does that, I think his potential is unlimited.”
Coach Martin said he is confident that Epenesa is also going to make a big jump in the shot put before the season ends.
“If anyone is going to break the state discus record, it is him,” Coach Martin added.
In conversations with the University of Iowa athletic staff, Epenesa said they are open to him throwing the discus in college.
“They have told me if I am good at it, do it,” he said. “I am going to have to talk to them about it after I made this big jump. We will just have to see how it goes.”
When talking about A.J. throwing the discus in college at Iowa, Martin responded again with a big smile: “I think A.J. would be good for this country,” meaning he could be one of the top discus throwers in America if he does decide to pursue the event at Iowa.
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