Walk-on javelin throwers hit the mark at Pomona-Pitzer dual

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Shea Grosz (first year) prepares for the next throw during javelin practice at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. Jasmine Mack/The Occidental

Occidental’s track and field team began their SCIAC season with a meet against Pomona-Pitzer Feb. 8 at Jack Kemp Stadium. Along with winning the meet 7747, the team also welcomed Shea Grosz (first year) and Jake Willemsen (junior) to the team as new javelin throwers. The team did not have any javelin throwers coming into the season, according to head coach Rob Bartlett. The new throwers are already producing results for their team, with Grosz finishing fifth with a throw of 31.55 meters and Willemsen placing first with a throw of 44.13 meters at the meet against Pomona-Pitzer.

These two new athletes have something in common: neither of them had ever thrown javelin before joining the team. Prior to joining the team, Willemsen was a quarterback for the Occidental football team 2017–2019. He joined the team with a background in both football and baseball, giving him a solid throwing base to grow from. Transitioning into javelin practices was easier as he was already used to training for football, according to Willemsen.

“My roommate was trying to get me to join the track team and I was originally thinking of running track, but when the coaches saw my history of throwing from football, they thought I should try out for javelin,” Willemsen said. “So I gave it a try.”

Grosz said he is committing himself to expanding his athletic resume, as he is also a member of the men’s water polo team. He attends water polo lifts in the morning and javelin practice in the evenings. He said that being in-season helps him keep everything balanced and does not give him any time to procrastinate on his schoolwork. Grosz said his water polo coach, Jack Stabenfeldt, was extremely encouraging about him trying out javelin, which made it much easier for him to join the team.

The two athletes said they first heard about this opportunity from the track and field recruiting coordinator David Foley.

“Coming into [this] season, we didn’t have any male javelin throwers, so Dave Foley, who is our program’s recruiting coordinator, did a little bit of on-campus recruiting,” Bartlett said. “He talked to some football players and water polo players about coming out and giving it a go to try and plug that hole in our team.”

Bartlett said the track and field team is not limited to a certain number of athletes on their roster, which allows for more flexibility and a solid mix of recruited and walk-on athletes. The coaches encouraged Grosz and Willemsen to try javelin out for a few practices to see if they had potential and to make sure they enjoyed it, according to Grosz.

“The first thing that stood out to me was their enthusiasm,” Bartlett said. “They bring a lot of positive energy, and from what other coaches have told me, they’re showing a lot of promise as well and picking things up quickly.”

After competing against Pomona-Pitzer at their home meet, Grosz and Willemsen both said they are happy with their results and are feeling excited about the rest of the season.

“I’m looking forward to [future meets], honestly,” Willemsen said. “Since I’ve never thrown javelin before, I don’t have all of the exact techniques down, but I feel like I have a good base to go from. So if I can keep improving, I’d like to be able to really contend for SCIACs by the end of the year.”

Optimistic about the potential for growth in their new sport, Willemsen said both athletes can see themselves throwing javelin in future seasons as well, especially if they continue to improve throughout this spring.

“For the first week of throwing in my life, I feel like I did pretty good,” Grosz said. “Obviously I have a lot to work on, but it was super exciting. The competition was fun and it was everything I expected.”

Although both of them joined the team right at the start of the season and without any prior experience, Willemsen said the rest of the athletes were very welcoming to their new teammates. Because the team is so large, it is hard to walk to class and not see a teammate, which has been a highlight of joining this team and getting to know the other athletes, according to Willemsen.

“All the guys are super cool and welcoming,” Grosz said. “There are like two different groups, so there’s the field team where everybody is really close and it feels like family, and then there is the rest of the team and we’re all good friends.”

Grosz, Willemsen and the track and field team will compete against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Feb. 22.