Of the 18 intercollegiate sports played at Whitworth College, only in five have the athletes in the current senior class not experienced a championship.
Winning is hardly taken for granted, but neither is it some crazy Everest.
So sometimes the bar has to be set a little higher. Which is just about as badly as a metaphor can be mangled for a discus thrower.
It’s a rare weekend when Carter Comito doesn’t step into the ring and beat the field by 20 feet or more. When he took his school record up to 203-5 earlier this month at the Sam Adams Classic at Boppell Track, he was 40 feet ahead of everyone, including a thrower who went to the Olympic Trials last year.
“That’s kind of what it’s come to for him,” Whitworth coach Toby Schwarz said. “He’s already had a lot of success. So what does he do with that success now, and how does he stay motivated?”
This is an interesting phenomenon, even at Whitworth.
In the Northwest Conference, the Pirates are competitive everywhere and often dominant. The men’s track team Comito captains, for example, has a realistic chance to score 300 points in the league championships this weekend in Salem, Ore., something that’s never been done.
There’s been national success, too – most recently when the basketball team climbed to the No. 1 ranking in Division III. That’s the NCAA’s non-scholarship limb, home to scholars, late bloomers and the overlooked.
Comito qualifies as all three, a high school wrestler at Mead who didn’t turn out for track until his senior year, threw just 150 feet and didn’t qualify for the state meet. All legitimate reasons for giving the Division I schools whose throwers he’s thumping now a pass for missing on him.
“But it’s nice,” Comito admitted, “to beat some of those guys when they’re the ones getting scholarships.”
Still, it’s a little mind-blowing to look at the national collegiate list for the discus and find three 200-foot throwers this spring: UCLA’s Julian Wruck, LSU’s Rodney Brown and the kid from Whitworth.
He’s sixth among all throwers in the United States and 24th in the world, though the world is just now getting out of bed.
Comito got his first sniff of this business two years ago, when he hiked his best about 30 feet, broke the school’s 50-year-old record and won the first of his two D-III national titles. Then came the competitive equivalent of the midafternoon caffeine crash.
“I’d thrown 194 feet and figured I was ready for 200,” he said, “but I didn’t have a PR all last year, and that was really frustrating.”
So he headed back to the weight room to get stronger (his maxes are up to 490 on the bench and 600 for the squat), and he and Schwarz had a heart-to-heart about things like expectation, challenge and motivation.
It’s a fragile balance. Schwarz sensed Comito’s burden, though never more so than when the senior got off a 196-foot throw just before his big one earlier this month “and you could just tell how relieved he was. I think he really feels people heap expectations on him that he needs to live up to.”
Schwarz prefers goals, so he gave him another: Don’t be a one-hit wonder. Though Comito had treated the shot put as something of an afterthought before, he erased another ancient school record in the same home meet. He’s threat- ening 60 feet, and has a chance to bring back two national titles next month.
The coach also tried to find Comito better competitive opportunities, sending him to the Stanford Invitational two weeks ago where he won the top section over a bunch of D-I throwers and post-collegians – and with a come-from-behind effort, as well.
“I’m usually the guy throwing last,” he said. “It was a great experience in responding to different situations and pressure.”
So he’s legit – and in the process, has made the program that birthed his success a little more legit, too, even if it had produced D-III champions before, half-miler Emmanuel Bofa and high jumper Cody Stelzer among them.
“If we get someone like Carter, who might want to go to a bigger school, can we take him to 210, 220 feet better than somebody else?” Schwarz wondered. “I don’t know. There’s a lot of great programs.
“But we’re not going to keep him from getting there. Cody Stelzer wasn’t a 7-foot jumper because of us, but he wasn’t a 7-4 guy we held back. Kids can come here and do great things, and Carter’s shown that. His dreams – the trials and the Olympics – are realistic, and they’re realistic from here, and maybe there’ll be another Carter some day.”
Not crazy at all.