Walled Lake Centralís Cullen Prena has thrown the discus 198 feet, 9 inches this year. The state record is 197-11 set at the 2001 state finals. (Elizabeth Conley/Detroit News)
Walled Lake -- It's not a coincidence that Ned Stojkovic is the coach of the top-ranked male and female discus throwers at Walled Lake Central.
Ask Stojkovic about their success and he will tell you it's about technique. That's the short answer, but it takes more than the proper technique for athletes like Cullen Prena and Josephine Jackson to become so successful.
It takes countless hours of practice, repeating the same series of motions thousands of times to reach the highest levels that Stojkovic expects from his athletes.
"(Field events) are kind of notorious around here," Stojkovic said. "It has to do with year-round training. I have guys on the junior varsity who would score for other teams (at the varsity level)."
Walled Lake Central has a number of athletes who compete well in the field events. Exhildi Prekaj, for example, is the state's No. 2-ranked junior in the shot put with a best toss of 52 feet, 10 inches.
"It's all technique. It's a drill," Stojkovic said. "The whole month of March and much of April they average 10 to 16 throws a day. Some athletes throw 20 or 30 times a day. That's too much. You can develop bad habits.
"We have them throw in sets of three. You throw, say the discus, three times then go to a different station, say the medicine ball, and work there before going to another station. Basically we teach muscle memory. It's much like golf and a golfer's swing.
"Our athletes will rotate 10,000 or more times in a year. You see, I have them for four hours every day. These rotations will implement the discus, for example, and sometimes they'll rotate with a towel. This is so they can focus on their feet. Balance is critical. Then they'll focus on acceleration. But they must do this smoothly. You can't have sudden stops and starts."
Prena is the state's premier discus thrower. On April 30 he set a personal-best with a throw of 198 feet, 9 inches. His previous best was 188-8. The state record, officially recorded at the state finals, is 197-11 set by Joey Sarantos of Portage Northern in 2001.
To have a chance at the record, Prena must qualify at the Division 1 regional on Friday at Milford. Regionals throughout the state will be held Friday or Saturday. One bad day for any athlete could prevent them from competing at the state finals on June 1.
Prena, who signed with Oregon, also competes in the shot put.
"What Cullen is, he's a special athlete," Stojkovic said. "His entire body is double-jointed. He can pull the discus back so far that he's able to create more torque.
"He and Josephine are weight-room warriors. Even when they're done they'll sit around and talk about school and such. They get along so well with their teammates; they just kind of hang out together."
Prena's twin sisters, Kelsey and Kari, also trained under Stojkovic before going on to college — Kelsey at Michigan State and Kari at Michigan. Kelsey held the school-record in the discus (140-1), Kari the shot put (40-5), before they graduated in 2009.
Jackson, who will compete at Notre Dame next season, has since surpassed both. Her best in the shot is 45 feet. In the discus it's 143-6.
One of the top regionals for the track athletes will be held Friday at Grosse Pointe South.
The host team, led by the Meier twins, Hannah and Haley , is the two-time defending girls state champions.
Though South will be favored to win the regional, look for Detroit Renaissance to score well especially in the sprints and sprint relays.
Renaissance recently won the boys and girls titles at the Detroit Public School League/EEA track meet and the girls 800-meter relay team of Dominique Funchess , Paris Parnell , Asaundra Dalton and Dominique Taylor placed first (1:41.14) at the prestigious Don Mitchell/Randy Wagner Roosevelt Memorial held in Dayton, Ohio, on May 3-4.
Renaissance coach Harry Weaver said this group also ran together last season and have improved significantly in a year's time.
"They ran a 1:52 last year," he said. "They ran a 52(-seconds) flat in the 400 (relay) and their time this year is a 49. They're working harder. For just pure speed, Funchess is tops. She'll run a 12 flat or just under in the 100. Parnell is the most versatile. Her best event is the 200.
"We should do well in those relays. But South is loaded in the distance (events). They have all those kids back."
Weaver said the boys team has been helped by an influx of football players. There are approximately 45 members on the team, compared to 30 for the girls. The top two are twins Aaron and Austin Davis who compete in the sprints. Aaron's best event is the 200; Austin the 400.
Larry Tuttle knows baseball. He's been the head coach at Blissfield for 46 years, has 1,130 career victories (before this season) and has won seven state titles. When his team was blanked by Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett eight days ago, 10-0, he tipped his cap and congratulated University Liggett coach Dan Cimini .
"He told me he'd never seen a better (Division 4) program," Cimini said. "That meant something to us, coming from him. We try to schedule the best teams. Five or six years ago a lot of those teams wouldn't play us. Now they will. I told my players that shows how far we've come."
Liggett is 14-4, 7-0 in the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference. Cimini's teams haven't lost a conference game in three years. Their four losses have come against Division 1 teams (twice to Grosse Pointe South, Grosse Pointe North and Walled Lake Northern). Liggett has defeated other Division 1 teams such as Livonia Stevenson, Detroit Western and Port Huron Northern.
Liggett, which won the Division 4 title two years ago and lost in the championship game last season, is led by Connor Fannon (.450, 29 RBIs) and sophomore shortstop Nick Azar (21 RBIs). Fannon signed with Central Michigan and Azar has been offered a scholarship by Michigan.
Catholic League final set
Defense continues to be a sore spot for Detroit Catholic Central and coach Bill Lis . When C.C. makes the routine plays, it usually wins.
On Saturday, C.C. (14-10) played sound baseball and defeated U-D Jesuit, the No. 2 seed, 3-2 in a Catholic League A-B Division semifinal.
For the second time in three years C.C. will play for the league title. Top seed and defending champion Birmingham Brother Rice will be its opponent and the game will be played at noon Thursday at Comerica Park.
"We were 10-10 in league play," Lis said. "And that kind of sums it up. When we pick up the ball, we do OK. We made some errors early in the season that cost us.
"Our pitching has been good all season. Fortunately, we made just one miscue on Saturday."
Pitcher Rob Gustitus went the distance Saturday to earn the victory. He struck out seven and allowed three hits. Lis said he might go with Gustitus against Brother Rice or go with lefthander Mitchell Sykes .