Going into his final preliminary throw in the shot put at the 2014 NCAA Division III national track and field championships in Delaware, Ohio, Rocky Mitolo was sitting in 18th place and needed to jump at least 19 spots if the John Carroll junior wanted any chance of advancing to the finals.
It was a thought that passed his mind when he stepped into the ring and prepared for the toss on May 23, but he admitted he was more concerned with beating his first two throws, which went 15.23 and 15.04 meters (around 50 feet).
"I went in thinking I needed to make it count," Mitolo said. "If I didn't make it to the finals, that was fine, but at least I gave it everything.
"I didn't think it was good. I felt that it was better than my first two (throws), but I didn't realize how far it actually went until it landed. I was really shocked and really excited."
Mitolo, a 2011 John F. Kennedy graduate, managed more than just to beat his mark - he qualified for the finals. His 16.43-meter (53 feet, 11 inches) was good enough for seventh place heading into the final three throws, and although he faulted all three of those throws, that mark held for seventh place and All-American honors.
The Niles native became the first Blue Streak thrower in 13 years and the program's first-ever shot put thrower to be an All-American. It's not a bad feat for someone who never qualified for the Ohio High School Athletic Association state track and field meet during his time at Kennedy.
"I didn't go to state or anything like that when I was in high school, but I continued to throw because I really enjoyed it and I always hoped that one day if I kept working that I could earn All-American honors," Mitolo said. "I didn't expect it this year, but it was definitely something that I was hoping for."
Along with Mitolo not having a ton of success during high school, but one year after he joined the John Carroll program, the Blue Streaks got a new throws coach in Kyle Basista, who had zero experience with throwing events before making the switch. Basista was an assistant on men's and women's cross country teams and was the distance coach for the track team before becoming the throws coach.
Both Basista and Mitolo didn't let that get in their way of making Mitolo an All-American as they used unorthodox methods and simplifying the terminology so the two could meet in the middle. Mitolo said Basista will sometimes makeup drills to work on positions or utilize little-used methods in order to get the junior progress in certain techniques
"The thing that actually makes Rocky and I as a coach-athlete relationship work with me not knowing a whole lot and maybe not knowing the most technical terms is I break it down pretty simple," Basista said. "That's how Rocky kind of likes it and that's how he reacts to things. He wants you to simplify it and tell it how it is. He doesn't want to hear about throwing terms or angles or stuff like that. Just kind of break it down and make it simple."
Mitolo praised his coaches, especially Basista, who was named the head coach of the cross country and track and field programs on June 18.
"I think it's a great testament to John Carroll track program because if you looked at us when I was a freshman, they never would have said three years from now that kid is going to be seventh in the nation in the shot put," Mitolo said. "So, it's a great honor to be the first person in 13 years to achieve that honor. It's definitely really exciting."
With a seventh-place finish as a junior, Mitolo said he expects there to be a lot of pressure on him to improve upon his success as a senior. It will be difficult, however, as six of the top seven placers at the national championships were juniors and the other was a sophomore.
For what it's worth, Basista seems to believe Mitolo will do well next season.
"Obviously, the goal is to make it back to nationals, and he hasn't made it indoor," Basista said. "So, that's going to be a goal. Once he gets back there, I think he's capable of anything."