Brentwood High School junior Sophia Rivera made a quick trip to New York City March 13-15, 2015 with her parents. It wasn't a vacation. There was no touring of The Big Apple. Rivera flew out on Friday evening, and flew back Sunday morning. There was no time for sightseeing. It was a business trip. Rivera had to take care of the business of confirming that she is the country's best female high school shot putter. The New Balance High School Indoor Track and Field Nationals meet was where she aimed to do it.
Rivera entered the lone high school indoor track and field national championship meet with the four longest throws in the country so far this season, with three at more than 49-feet, and another at 50-06.25. All four appear to be farther than any Missouri prep girl has ever thrown, indoors or outdoors.
It' didn't take long for Rivera to get to business. On her first toss, she put the shot 49-1 to take the lead. "I got it out, right there on the first throw. Of course I was hoping for a little bit further every time as anyone and everyone does", Rivera said in a March 16th interview. Coming into the meet Rivera had said she was trying not to think about winning a national title, but getting her technique down just right, and that if that happened, a national title would take care of itself.
How was her technique on that first throw? “Not everything (was right), but (it was) much better than previous meets (first throws). I did get a little bit of improvement on keeping that foot low. I think while I was focused on it on the first throw, afterward the nerves got the best of me. My brain got a little jumbled up."
In the first round a competitor tossed a 47-9 attempt, while in the second round three others threw 48-foot bombs including two 48-8's. Rivera followed her opening mark with two 46-foot throws in the prelims. Rivera entered the eight-person final with a slim 4.75'' lead.
Rivera said competing in an event one person at a time, as in the field events, presents a different dilemma than races on the track and a different kind of anxiety. "I don't want to say (it's) tougher than in a race, but It's different kind of tough, because you do have so much time in between your throws… thoughts get into your brain and they dig in and burrow and so it gives it time to expand and (can cause you to) freak out a little bit."
When the 48-foot marks were tossed, that caused a distraction for Rivera. "I was thinking too much about that actually. While I was thinking, 'I need to get them, I need to go even farther,' I think that's probably what actually held me back. I think I threw 45 or 46's more consistently in that round than I had. But I think the thought of two people having 48's was making me more nervous."
In the finals, Rivera sat eighth in the order of the eight finalists. In the fourth and fifth rounds, Rivera could only muster 44' throws. After five rounds, with just one left, Rivera still sat in first. It would stay that way as New Yorker Alexis Daniels entered the ring. Daniels was in second and the only one standing in the way of Rivera's national title. But like she did on all but one of her throws, Daniels fouled, giving Rivera the victory.
"It was big pressure off my shoulders. It was a big, big relief. I knew myself, I had it won… it was starting to get real. I had just won New Balance Nationals. But then I had to reel myself back in." Rivera couldn't celebrate yet as she had one more attempt. "On my last throw, it ended up being my second best throw of the series, but I think I could have thrown into the 50's if I had just kept my focus, let the relief wash over me, but not the thoughts of 'I just won."'
However, the feelings of being a national champion didn't wait and the moment was special. "It was great before the (final) throw; it was great after the throw. I didn't really think about 'Oh I threw a 48, that was my second best throw' right away. I was like 'I've got this, this is amazing, nothing else like it."' Rivera says that final throw was different than all the others. "…as I was getting into the ring, the first thing I noticed was how quiet everything was. Like there was a silence that washed over the entire stadium, and I know probably it wasn't the entire stadium, but for sure the spectators in the shot put (area). So as I was throwing I did catch a glimpse at my mom, that was a special moment."
Despite the victory, the nerves weren't gone. Rivera got nervous for the awards ceremony. "It was crazy. I was actually kind of nervous for (the awards ceremony) too. Cause I was going to be on the (video board) and on everyone's computers nationwide. I was kind of like 'I can't believe this is happening.'"
Rivera talked about what she got from the experience, "I think I just gain a little more personal confidence. Maybe (that) not on my best day that I could still come out and win New Balance Nationals and that hopefully, if I don't have a great day, that it will still be good enough."