WATERVILLE — In the middle of Waterville Senior High School, there’s a small room. Ian Wilson, the school’s track and field coach, calls it a dungeon. It’s where the Purple Panther throwers work on their craft, chucking the shot against a wall, over and over. You can’t get a feel for distance throwing against that wall, but you can get a feel for power, depending on how high on the wall your throw lands, and how it feels leaving your hand.
“How high up you throw on the wall is kind of how those guys test themselves,” Wilson said.
All season long, Rachel Bergeron and Trevor Gray have been abusing the higher points of that wall, and when the Class B indoor track and field championship takes place at Bates College in Lewiston on Monday, they hope to see the work in the dungeon pay off.
Bergeron, a senior, and Gray, a sophomore, are the top seeds in the girls and boys shot put, respectively, for Monday’s meet. Last week, each took first place in the event at the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship at Bowdoin College in Brunswick.
For Bergeron, this season is the culmination of four years of improvement. When Bergeron was a freshman, teacher Michelle Fowler suggested she give throwing a try.
“Discus came pretty natural to me, but shot put, I was awful when I started,” Bergeron said. “I didn’t expect to get good at shot. I did indoor to practice for outdoor.”
The first time she threw the shot, it went 15 feet, Bergeron said. Improvement to strength and technique led Bergeron to where she is now, one of the top throwers in the state. Bergeron threw a personal record 39 feet, 6 inches to win the KVAC meet, and is seeded more than two feet better than two seed Alyssa Casarez of Greely.
“I think it’s more form for me at this point. When I started getting better, I think it was from improving in strength, now I can have one throw and have it be 35 (feet), and another throw can be 39. It’s differences in technique. They make a huge difference,” Bergeron, who placed second in the shot at last season’s state indoor meet, said.
Bergeron started to see big improvement as a sophomore, when she began seeing her throws hit higher and higher on the wall.
“I could tell the explosiveness. It felt a lot different,” Bergeron said.
As a sophomore, Bergeron placed seventh in the shot put at the indoor state meet. Since then, she’s added approximately 10 feet to her throws.
“With Rachel, a lot of it has been confidence. The ability has been there for quite some time to be around 40. When you start to gain confidence and believe in yourself a little bit, you slow down a little,” Wilson said. “As she’s gotten more experience, she’s learned to just calm down, go through the movements slowly, and not get hyperactive and panicky. She just believes in herself now, and that confidence level has made a huge improvement in her throws.”
For Gray, this season’s improvement has been dramatic, too. As a freshman last season, Gray just missed qualifying for the state indoor meet. At the outdoor championship, he finished 13th.
“Last year, I powered through. I never got the spin down. This year, we focused and got everything together. We’ve been working on it hard this year,” Gray said. “You can throw far with brute strength, but if you combine both (strength and technique), you can really throw far.”
Gray’s best throw this season was 52-11, at Colby College in the last regular season meet. He won the KVAC title with a throw of 50-6.5. Wilson saw the work Gray put in the weight room, and is not surprised by the sophomore’s improvement.
“In an event like the shot put, it’s difficult to be any good, especially at the level he’s at, if you’re not dedicated in the weight room,” Wilson said. “I always say these things are no big surprise, when you see what kids are doing. When you see kids spending the time, being here until 5:30 to complete their lifts, seeing the kinds of numbers he’s pushing in the weight room, it comes as no big surprise he’s throwing 52 feet.”
Gray’s goal for the state meet is 55 feet.
“I really want to hit 60 before I leave high school, but I’m focused on 55 right now,” Gray said.
Bergeron would like to throw 40 feet at the state meet, and plans on continuing her track and field career in college. Among the schools Bergeron is considering are Maine, Northeastern and RPI.