Even after Smith, event gives Riverhead shot in arm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Danny De Cabia, one of Riverhead's top shot putters, trained by throwing a bowling ball on Friday.

The Riverhead High School boys winter track team has made a name for itself in the shot put in recent years. Much of the reason for that can be credited to Mike Smith.

Smith, a two-time indoor state champion who also won a state outdoor title, undoubtedly left his mark on the Blue Waves as the school’s record-holder for both indoors (57 feet 4 1/2 inches) and outdoors (58-8 1/4). When he graduated last spring and accepted a football scholarship from SUNY/Albany, Riverhead’s track opponents may have breathed a sigh of relief. What they may not realize, however, is that while the Blue Waves no longer have Smith, they do have a cast of throwers who will enable the team to remain a force in the event.

One can expect names such as Jaylin Jeffries, Anthony Stimpfel and Danny De Cabia to appear at or near the top of meet results this coming season. Those three are expected to be the team’s top shot putters.

“These guys have been working hard and have made very considerable, incremental gains over the course of their tenure in winter and spring track and field,” said Riverhead Coach Sal Loverde, whose team started preseason practice last Wednesday with close to 80 athletes coming out for the squad. “So, people are going to be surprised when all of a sudden they say, ‘Where did all these kids come from?’ and we’re challenging for the top spots again. It’s exciting for us.”

Jeffries and De Cabia, who are seniors, and Stimpfel, a junior, are said to be close in ability. “We just keep pushing each other,” De Cabia said.

De Cabia has thrown 40 feet indoors, Stimpfel threw over 39 feet last winter, and while Jeffries has never thrown indoors, Stimpfel believes Jeffries has a one-foot advantage on him.

“I think it’s important to continue being the best shot putters we can be,” Stimpfel said. “There’s a lot of competition between us three, making each other better.”

He isn’t kidding, either. Loverde has noticed that none of them takes losing lightly. “They’re great friends, they’re great buddies,” he said, “but they take it personal, there’s no question about it. … They help push each other toward their potential. They help allow each other to elevate in excellence from one plateau to the next, meet by meet.”

This is De Cabia’s fourth year on the team, Stimpfel’s third and Jeffries’ first. They are the products of a program that has traditionally done well for itself when it comes to fielding events in general and the shot put, in particular. Loverde has been coaching track in Riverhead for some 20 years, and he said  he “can’t remember a year when we didn’t have one or two kids who made a difference in the shot put.”

This trio could make a difference, partially thanks to Smith. Stimpfel said he was a good friend of Smith’s and learned a lot from him. “He taught me a lot of what he knew, what made him a good shot putter,” said Stimpfel.

Jeffries said: “We all want to be just as good as him. We want to live up to that, try to be state champs.”

It’s no secret what makes a great shot putter. “Technique, strength and focus,” said De Cabia.

And a good throws coach doesn’t hurt, either.

Jeff Blom, who threw for Riverhead in the mid-1980s, has spent the past several years working with the Blue Waves on their technique, fine-tuning things here and there among a group of throwers, who are a sort of mini team within a team.

“The shot putters here in Riverhead, we’re our own little animal here,” said Blom, who has the shot putters train by throwing bowling balls to strengthen their muscles. “We have a certain sense of pride that we take with us.”

Loverde said, “We’re looking forward to some exciting things.”

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