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Now-junior thrower Kyla Jamison competes in the discus throw event at the Penn Challenge on March 18, 2023.

Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

You’ve heard about the runners, the jumpers, the pole vaulters — but it’s time the Quaker community paid closer attention to the hidden backbone of Penn track and field. Introducing the throwers: a small-but-mighty tight-knit group of athletes who are ready to return to the national stage.   

Penn throwing has produced several superstar athletes in recent years, such as 2016 graduate Sam Mattis, who recently became the only American to reach the Olympic discus final in the 2020 Olympics, and 2022 graduate Marc Minichello, who won the 2022 NCAA javelin championship.   

“I would like to get us back to that national presence,” throwing coach Isaiah Simmons said. “Even when I was coming up through high school and college, Penn always had somebody who was a First Team All-American in the throwing event.”   

Simmons joined Penn track and field this past November, and is proud of the group’s achievements in the indoor season despite how little time they had together beforehand. The Red and Blue showed out, with everyone setting a personal record in some capacity. The women’s team was also crowned champions at the Ivy League Indoor Heptagonal Championships, while the men’s group placed third.   

Despite throwing being a largely individual sport, these 13 Penn athletes excel partly due to their uniquely close relationship. Although most of the team met at Penn, some go way back, like the Dochat siblings — freshman Alexa and junior Scott — as well as freshmen Jesse Goldman and Kai Deines.   

Having both grown up in Los Angeles, Goldman and Deines often competed against and trained together throughout their high school careers. Deines committed to Penn not only because of its historic track and field team and teammates who were “very real” with him from the start, but also because of the appeal of attending the Wharton School. On the contrary, Goldman wasn’t initially looking at Penn until he heard about Deines signing with the Red and Blue.   

“I looked into the school more, and Kai said very good things about his experience when he visited,” Goldman explained. “So I reached out to the coach, it ended up working out, and it felt like the right place to go.”   

Deines emphasized the magnetic connection that the squad had from the start.

“We stepped onto Penn, and we already had a group,” Deines said. “We had people who are here to support us and who understand what it’s like to put in the time. In high school, you’re surrounded by people who may do similar things as you, but not to the same level.”   

Goldman agreed, and added that his level of commitment not only to his athletics, but also his academics, rose by “being surrounded by all these people that are taking it so seriously.”   

But balancing school and sports is never easy, especially for freshmen stepping onto an Ivy League campus for the first time.   

“When you’re practicing up to five or six hours a day, you’re losing a little edge where everyone else gets to study,” Deines added. “Another challenge that’s pretty unique to throwing is the size of the shot put discus. They increase from 12 to 16 pounds from high school to college, so there’s an adjustment there in terms of the strength needed to throw as far.”   

Both athletes credited the steady presence of the junior leaders on the team for guiding them through their first year and making the transition process seamless. As a matter of fact, Scott — also a Penn football player — played an integral role in the group’s success over the past couple months, and set a sparkling example for newcomers. After suffering an ACL injury last spring, he spent the summer in rehabilitation with the football team in order to recover in time for the season.   

“It had kind of been my goal all along to be able to compete in indoor championships after I had torn [my ACL], so it was a really good feeling being able to come back from that; but at the same time, it was ridiculously hard,” he said.   

Scott didn’t just come back from the injury, though — he practically soared.   

Scott broke a program record at the Sykes & Sabock Invitational at Penn State on Feb. 3, becoming the first athlete in Quaker history to reach 20 meters. The meet was also special to him as it was the first time in his career competing with one of his close high school friends and former teammate — now a thrower at Binghamton University. Scott then broke this record again later in the season.   

“I get really mentally into it,” he said. “I'm definitely not myself a week or two leading up to championships. And there were a ton of people there watching because the entire track meet was over for the day except for the weight throw, so the whole team was over, cheering for me, and I don’t think there’s going to be much that tops that feeling.”   

Scott’s main goal for the rest of his career at Penn has been the same since his freshman year: becoming an Ivy League champion. Scott added that he not only wants to achieve this goal for himself, but to also put 10 points up for his teammates at the championship meet.   

Another upperclassman, junior Kyla Jamison, has been aiming to help underclassmen “find who they are at Penn” since her own freshman year.   

As a first-generation college student, Jamison sought to go somewhere where she could “change her life” and push herself to the next level athletically and academically. She knew Penn was capable of being exactly that for her.   

“My freshman year had a lot of obstacles, but I had really supportive teammates [who] always pointed me in the right direction,” Jamison said. “Learning how to manage my time was super important, but being part of athletics here at Penn really got me through. I think I excel now academically because I’m part of the team; it’s been playing a huge role in helping me.”   

As the outdoor season begins, the athletes are looking forward to traveling as a group to meets in the coming months, which will begin with the Raleigh Relays in North Carolina and the Florida Relays at the University of Florida this weekend. Both the men’s and women’s groups are hoping to clinch victories in the outdoor championships later on in the season.   

Freshman Alexa Dochat discussed the extent of preparation that goes into attempting such a goal and emphasized how throwing is, rather unexpectedly to some, a very technique-heavy sport.   

“You have to have that explosiveness, range of motion, and that fast twitch that you need to help sling and implement,” she said. “And when you’re competing, you only get three throws. So you have to work really hard, and then you also have to be able to perform when it comes to game time.”   

With all this in mind, Dochat is locked in for the outdoor season. Not only has she set several distance goals for herself, but she also hopes to go to the Ivy League Championships.   

“I think it would be really cool to get to that meet and then potentially score and help out our team, especially because our women’s team is such a strong group,” Dochat said. “We won the indoor Heps, and I think we have a good chance of winning outdoors too.”   

Jamison emphasized the importance of the mental aspect of the sport, adding that it can get tough to keep a clear mind when athletes train so hard “for just a couple inches or just a couple feet to add to [their] throw.”   

She remembers a younger teammate telling her about a rule that helps her with trusting the process: a third of training days might be bad, but a third are okay, and then a third are usually great.   

On the men’s side, Goldman emphasized that many throwers gear more toward outdoor events than indoor. As a result, they especially look forward to seeing what they can put out there as the outdoor season begins and believe a championship is within grasp.   

Scott added that he believes the one thing that separates the throws group from the rest of Penn track and field is their grit.   

“Penn throwing has traditionally been very good at javelin,” he said. “We’ve had two national champs, so I know our [javelin] squad will continue to clean up in that area. But as a team right now, and as a throws group, we are all willing to put in the extra work to go the extra mile.”   

Deines and Goldman also emphasized that the team has the unique advantage of being extremely young — the six freshmen recruited this past year constitute nearly half of the throwing squad, all of whom will return next year — and having a young coach who knows what it's like to compete in this day and age.   

Looking into the future, Simmons expressed a desire to grow the fan base for Penn track and field, especially as they seek to host meets and throw festivals in upcoming summers. He also pitched the idea of holding camps once Penn’s indoor facility is built to give back to the Philadelphia community and offer local youth a place to practice.   

But let’s zoom back in.   

Simmons’s goals for this season are simple: bring at least half of the group to Ivy Outdoor Heps and get at least three or four athletes qualified for the first round of nationals.   

“Consistently sending a handful of athletes to the national meet will be a good base for our group going forward,” he said. “Always showing that, ‘Hey, our kids are graduating and getting a great education, but at the same time, they’re competing at the national level.’ We want to show everyone that you can do both at the Ivy Leagues.”