As a hammer thrower or metalsmith, Fox Chapel grad shines at Cal (Pa.)

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Saturday, June 8, 2024 | 11:01 AM


Jessica Jing McCann illustrates what it means to be a preeminent student-athlete.

She recently earned all-region honors as a record-setting throwing specialist for the Cal (Pa.) women’s track and field program.

A Fox Chapel graduate, McCann is Cal’s first female thrower to earn all-region accolades since the inception of the award in 2011.

As a junior in 2023-24, she established lofty goals for her outdoor track and field season and attained all but one.

“My expectation was to break my own school record in hammer, which I did four times and in three consecutive weeks,” McCann said.

Along with eclipsing the school record, McCann’s goals for the outdoor season included qualifying in the discus and placing in the top three in the hammer at the PSAC championships, throwing 52 meters in the hammer, earning All-PSAC and all-region honors and hitting the NCAA provisional mark (52.58) in the hammer.

“I accomplished all of these goals except for the last one in which I fell short by only half a meter,” she said.

McCann wrapped up the season ranked 48th in NCAA Division II in the hammer with a school-record throw of 52.08 meters (170 feet, 10 inches) and displayed a 3.25-meter improvement (10 feet, 8 inches) compared to 2023.

She also was the Vulcans’ first female thrower to earn all-conference status in more than 15 years.

The 21-year-old student-athlete explained the differences between the hammer throw and shot put.

“The shot put is a metal ball. In contrast, the hammer throw involves throwing a metal ball (the hammer) attached to a long wire or chain with a triangular handle,” McCann said. “In shot put, a rotational technique (the spin) or a linear technique (the glide) is used to generate power and momentum. In hammer, technique involves a combination of rotational movement, coordination and explosive power.

“Multiple turns are required to build momentum before releasing the hammer. There are several differences between the specific steps of the technique in shot put and hammer.”

A lot goes into what makes for a successful hammer thrower.

“(It) requires a combination of strength, speed and explosiveness, coordination, technique, flexibility and range of motion and mental toughness,” said McCann of O’Hara. “A good hammer thrower has a lot of upper body strength, which allows the ability to generate significant force to propel the hammer over a long distance. The ability to generate speed and explosiveness in the throwing circle is crucial. This enables the ability to create momentum and transfer energy effectively into the hammer.

“Mastering the intricate technique of the hammer throw is essential for success. This includes proper footwork, balance, coordination and timing throughout the turns and release. A good hammer thrower has excellent flexibility, particularly in the hips and shoulders, to execute the rotational movements required in the event effectively. Lastly, mental toughness is vital in the hammer throw. It is necessary to stay focused, confident and composed, especially under the pressure of competition, and to execute each throw with precision and power.”

The Seton Hill transfer shattered what was a decade-old hammer throw record at Cal on April 1, 2023, at the Dave Labor Invitational at Slippery Rock with a throw of 44.4 meters (145 feet, 8 inches), eclipsing 44.38 (145-7) established by Patriece Thompson at the 2013 PSAC finals.

This spring, McCann uncorked a throw of 50.37 (165-3) May 11 at the final qualifier hosted by Mount Olive in North Carolina. Earlier, she established a school record with a throw of 52.08 (170-10) again at Mount Olive, N.C.

The 5-foot-5 McCann was a four-year member of the track and field program at Fox Chapel, competing in the shot put, discus and javelin.

She has one sibling, Maya, an older sister by five years.

“Both Maya and I were adopted from China,” McCann said, “at separate times and places in China.”

McCann’s throwing career started in the seventh grade.

“My Uncle Randy (McCann), who was a throws coach for Keystone Oaks, encouraged me to try throwing since he believed I would be good at it,” McCann said. “Jayne Beatty, the Bigthrow Throws Club coach, has been the biggest influence in my athletic career. I started training with her during the summer after my freshman year of high school. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her guidance, support and confidence in me.

“Since Day 1, Jayne has directed me toward this path of success and continues to help me reach my full potential. I can’t thank her enough for everything she has done for me, and I’m so grateful for her.”

McCann said her schedule as a college student-athlete requires a year-round commitment, including more than an hour of lifting in the morning and team practices in the evening.

“Since I transferred to Cal U in the spring of 2023, I’ve taken four to five classes per semester along with summer and winter classes,” McCann said. “There are also team meetings, team bonding activities and volunteering (programs) that I attend. In the fall, we have conditioning. Indoor track season starts at the very end of the fall semester.

“For me, the outdoor track season (March to May) is the busiest with having to compete at meets on Fridays to Sundays every week.”

McCann is majoring in art education with a concentration in secondary education. She has maintained a 4.0 GPA at Cal and graduated from Fox Chapel with a 4.07.

She is involved in the art and the ceramics clubs in college.

“When I graduate, I want to become a high school art teacher or a college art professor,” she said. “I also want to continue my art (metalsmithing) on the side in the summer during my free time.”

At Fox Chapel, McCann was a member of National Honor Society, as well as the jewelry (president), art (treasurer), pottery and tapestry clubs. She also was an NAHS officer and treasurer.

When the pandemic spread across the country in 2020, McCann spent much of her time in the weight room, where she picked up Olympic weightlifting to help with her strength and explosiveness.

Brandon Peifer, Fox Chapel’s strength and conditioning coach, took notice and nominated McCann for National Strength and Conditioning Association All-American status. She was named an All-American Strength and Conditioning Athlete of the Year.

“I’m a short person and, in throwing, you either need strength, height or technique,” McCann said, “and unfortunately, I was not strong before the pandemic. My goal was to get stronger so it would help me in my throwing events and with my confidence.”

Peifer was impressed.

“Jing truly embodies everything we believe a student-athlete should be,” he said.

The multitalented McCann also has gained national notoriety in the arts field.

McCann has won numerous awards for her jewelry making and was a National YoungArts award winner and finalist in design arts. Her artwork has been displayed at Ketchup City Creative, Fox Chapel Area High School, Lauri Ann West Community Center and CCAC.

“I have loved art all my life,” she said.

As a high school senior, she earned a $5,000 scholarship from the National YoungArts Foundation and was lauded as a national winner in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards of 2021.

She won a gold medal for her jewelry titled “Wings of Deception” and a gold medal and prestigious American Visions Medal for her jewelry.

Making jewelry begins with a design that McCann creates through a sketch, which she builds into a paper model. She takes those pieces of paper and places them on nickel. McCann cuts the material with a coping saw into the desired shapes. She then files the edges and sands the metal before polishing the jewelry.

The butterfly is the inspiration for McCann the artist. She sees it as both fragile and strong.

“The butterfly has always been my favorite insect,” McCann said. “I love the elegance and grace of a butterfly. I also love its strength and its fragility.

“I try to put my own personal experiences into my artwork. Butterflies symbolize flight. Every day can be a battle, and it can be frustrating. I hope to help others through my art to know they can express themselves, and that they are not alone in the battle.”

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