Kiski Area’s Hepler tests mettle against nation’s top freshmen throwers

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Monday, June 17, 2019 | 7:26 PM


C.J. Hepler emerged this spring as one to watch for the future of throwing events in the WPIAL and beyond.

The Kiski Area rising sophomore was the lone freshman to compete in the discus at the WPIAL Class AAA championships last month at Slippery Rock, and he placed 12th overall with a top distance of 128 feet, 4 inches.

Last Friday, Hepler found himself on the national stage, and he brought home a medal.

He placed sixth in a field of some of the top rising sophomore discus throwers in the nation at the New Balance Nationals.

“I treated it like any other meet and did the best I could do,” Hepler said.

Pennsylvania is one of a select number of states to have freshmen throw at the high school varsity level as opposed to junior high. Because of that, the national competition featured a slightly lighter disc than the 1.6 kg. implement used for high school events.

Hepler threw his best right out of the gate. He finished with a top throw of 164-2.

“Throwing a lighter disc might be easier in some ways, but when you are used to throwing a heavier disc for a long time and then you switch to the lighter disc, it can mess with your rhythm and mechanics,” Kiski Area throwing coach Scott Newell said. “CJ’s a full-rotation guy when he throws. When you change that weight, it often throws off your balance. It was a challenge for him, but he prepared well.”

Hepler said work on technique and positioning in the throwing circle and also weight training between WPIALs and New Balance Nationals boosted his confidence.

Newell wasn’t able to be at nationals to watch Hepler throw, but through video taken of Hepler’s first couple of throws, Newell was able to provide feedback.

“I wasn’t permitted to watch the video, but coach Newell’s feedback helped me a lot,” Hepler said.

Newell finished just six feet from fifth place.

“I wasn’t surprised with how he did,” Newell said. “He put the work in and really wanted to show what he could do. The sky’s the limit for him.”

Hepler met the qualifying requirement for nationals through his throws this spring. He landed his personal best of 133-1 at the Northern Area Last Chance meet at Pine-Richland High School a week before WPIALs.

Hepler said his finish at WPIALs is a springboard to what he hopes is a more productive sophomore campaign.

“(WPIALs) was a big accomplishment for me,” Hepler said. “Like nationals, I went (to WPIALs) and tried to throw like it was any other meet. I was a little nervous because I knew it wasn’t just like any other meet. The talent level was raised. But it was a great experience. I just wanted to do the best I could.”

Hepler and other throwers from Kiski Area compete as individual entries to events this summer. He and a few of his Cavaliers teammates, including junior Ethan Newell and senior Jean Starr and twin sister Morgan, will throw unattached this weekend at the USA Track and Field Three Rivers Association Championships at Slippery Rock University.

The Region 2 meet, the next step after Three Rivers, is back at Slippery Rock on July 11-14. Nationals in Sacramento, Calif., on July 22-28 caps the journey.

“I am really excited for the rest of this summer and next season,” said Hepler, who also plays football in the fall.

“I want to continue to put in the work and get a little better each day.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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