Brentwood High School junior Sophia Rivera will take a shot at the title of being the best high school shot putter in the country when she competes in the New Balance High School Indoor Track and Field Nationals Saturday in New York City. Rivera, already four for four at the Missouri Class 2 State Track Meet in the throws, and who had two top-five finishes in the throws at USATF Junior Nationals last July, has the three furthest throws in the country this indoor season in the shot put. Her mark of 50-6.25 is more than a foot and a half further than the next best high school girl in the country. It also appears to be further than any Missouri high school girl has ever thrown.
This will not be the first big meet outside of the regular high school competition season for Rivera. She has competed at the Great Southwest Track and Field Classic, the New Balance Outdoor Nationals, the USATF Youth Outdoor Championships all last June, and as mentioned the USATF Junior National Championships last July. Rivera loves to compete and thrives when she gets to compete on big stages. "Oh I definitely enjoy those. It's a great experience to be able to throw against other amazing competitors. It puts the pressure on you. It' gets me in the zone. It pushes me to go farther," said Rivera in a phone interview on Wednesday.
Rivera says the big meets do cause a little bit more anxiety than usual. She added, "Whenever I compete I try to think, not about how big the meet is, but about how it's another opportunity for me to get my technique down and meet a bunch of other great competitors." The more and more of these elite competitions Rivera goes to the initial extra nerves are lessened as she gets used to it and it becomes "natural".
About Saturday's competition Rivera said, "I'm excited." She added, "The drive to do better and compete is always there because there's always someone there who's right behind me or right ahead of me I need to get.
You might think with the three best throws in the country and a best of a foot and a half further than anyone else, that Rivera is thinking about a national title. Well, not really. "Really my goal is probably not to win, but get my technique down. Because I feel if I can get what needs to be done; which is driving towards the toe board and keeping me left leg closed-cause that's been a problem this season, I think if I can get that down, the rest will take care of itself, and hopefully that will come out of me getting my technique and focusing."
Has she at least let herself think about what it would be like winning and being a national champion? "I have, but then I try to real it back in, because I know if I think like that, my focus is going to stray from getting my technique down to the glory of winning. If I want to win I have to focus solely on my technique and what I need to get done."
So when she has allowed herself to think about winning and being champion, what would that be like? "It would be amazing… It would make me feel amazing. I don't know how else to describe it but... I don't know, I'm still trying not to, I don't want to (let that thought in) … I don't want to lose focus."
While Rivera doesn't want to think about it, her competition may. Distracting her with thoughts of a national title might be the only way that others have a shot at the crown. If Rivera can keep focused on her mechanics, no one else may have a shot.
The Girls Shot Put Championship is scheduled for 12:30 CST and Rivera is in the third flight of three. Rivera isn't the only one taking advantage of MSHSAA's new rule of allowing two outside competitions during the regular season. John Burroughs senior Jordan McClendon, the defending Missouri Class 3 shot put champion, will take her best shot at All-American honors in the Weight Throw Championship, competing in Flight four of four Sunday morning at 8:30 CST.
Despite the changes allowing Missouri athletes to compete in the meet, the St. Louis area pair won't be the first Missourians ever to compete at the New Balance meet put on by the National Scholastic Sports Foundation. In 2010, Emily Sisson skipped competing her senior year for Parkway Central in favor of competing on her own selected schedule. That included that New Balance Meet, where she and Megan Goethals put on a show. They both broke the girls' two-mile meet record with Goethals edging Sisson by just 7/100ths of a second, 10:10.14 to 10:10.21.
The Meet will be held at The Armory in New York Cit. It will be webcast by FloSports on MileSplit.com, streaming from five cameras to show all of the action, including the field events.