Oxford — Connor Bandel has made significant strides during his junior season to make him a front-runner to win discus and shot put state championships later this month.
Bandel was at practice early last week, working on his discus tosses in the chilly weather, knowing the Oakland County meet was set for this Friday at Waterford Mott High School with the Division 1 state meet coming up May 30 at Rockford High School.
Bandel decided not to play basketball this winter in order to get stronger and work on his technique during the winter months. The move paid off with incredible improvement over his tosses from a year ago.
"Coming into this season my best (discus) throw was 166 feet, 9 inches and my best throw now is at 192 feet, 11 inches a couple of weeks ago," Bandel pointed out. "The biggest difference is gaining more experience over the last season. It was about getting mentally prepared for the season and also a lot of forms, a few technical differences.
"I went to a few camps over the summer after the season, and then this summer I did a lot of drilling, not so much actually throwing the discus, but just working on technique and doing different drills to help."
Bandel, who stands 6 feet, 3 inches and weighs 225 pounds, also got into the weight room.
"Strength is a big thing," Bandel said. "This year I didn't play basketball and I'm planning on doing the same next year to get ready for track, but I think technique is one of the biggest reasons for my improvement."
Bandel pushed his throws in the shot put from 55 feet, 4 inches last season to 61 feet, 1 inch this year.
"Again, it's about small technical differences and a lot of training," Bandel said.
So, what are Bandel's goals heading into the State Meet?
"I'm just looking to PR (personal record) at County, but at State I'm hoping to win both events," Bandel said. "I want to hit 200 (discus) and 62 (shot put), and I feel I'll have a great shot to win state if I reach them.
"This year my biggest competitor is Cody Patterson from Walled Lake Central. We competed earlier this season at Oxford and we had a close competition. He was within two or three feet in the shot and I had a big PR in the discus."
Kevin Weiler of Swartz Creek won the Division 1 state title in the shot put (60-4.5) and discus (176-5) last year.
Bandel is a multi-sport star. Last fall, he was the starting goalie in soccer, earning 11 shutouts while helping Oxford set a school record for fewest goals allowed (14 in 21 games).
"I think that's helped a lot with staying fit and agile, and it helps in the circle, staying lean," Bandel said. "We had a good year, won our first district championship in 12 years and we ended up beating Grand Blanc, which was ranked No. 9 in the state, in the district final."
Bandel is being recruited by Michigan, Louisiana State, Kentucky and Auburn for track.
"I got a letter from Auburn earlier this season and they said for a full ride I'd have to throw 200 feet in the discus and 62 in the shot, so that's what I'm gunning for at state," Bandel said.
Oxford coach Matt Johnson feels Bandel will compete well at the next level.
"Last year he had an outstanding season, especially for a sophomore to be throwing at the state finals," Johnson said. "He came out of that meet and recognized if he kicked it up a notch and did some off-season training he could be really good. He hit the gym like no other kid hits the gym. He saw the potential.
"Sure, he has a goal of being a state champion and a goal to be No. 1 in the nation, but his ultimate goal is to be the top in international competition as well. It's pretty sweet when you hear a kid that recognizes his potential and then not just meets the goal, but exceeds it."
Western aims for another title
Juan Sanchez has built a dynasty at Detroit Western, winning seven straight Public School League baseball championships.
Western defeated Cass Tech 16-1 in a semifinal Thursday and will face King in the title game Monday at 4:30 at Wayne State. King defeated Renaissance in the other semifinal, 8-6.
"The key was just having commitment to the kids, and as long as character and leadership was there the kids would follow and now we have tradition," said Sanchez, pointing out how he joined Mike Vazquez a dozen years ago to build the foundation for the program's success. Vazquez is no longer with Western.
"The younger kids want to be a part of it and I remember seeing seven, eight-year-olds watch us play and they're actually playing for us now. Kids in the neighborhood, they have a passion for baseball in southwest Detroit and we want to keep them here."
Sanchez said he has had 15 kids who went on to play college baseball, seven this year, including Hector Gutierrez, a sophomore at Michigan and Nolan Wilson at Davenport University.
Senior infielder Anthony Gutierrez, Hector's younger brother, is hitting .465 from the No. 3 spot in the order. Senior pitchers Amadeo Apolloni and Andrew Vazquez are among other top players for Western (18-9).
Western owns non-conference wins over MAC White division champion Warren Cousino and Harper Woods and split a doubleheader with Ann Arbor Huron.
"We play everybody," Sanchez said. "We played Northville, Utica, Warren Cousino, Grosse Pointe South, Orchard Lake St. Mary's, Harper Woods, (Detroit) Consortium, (Madison Heights) Lamphere. We'll play anybody."
North Farmington soccer going strong
Freshman goalkeeper Patil Tcholakian is having an outstanding season for North Farmington (10-2-4), posting a dozen shutouts while limiting opponents to 0.40 goals per game.
"She's played extremely well for us and the defense has played strong in front of her," assistant coach Mike Horner said. "The team is having an outstanding season, especially for having just one senior."
North Farmington has battled to a pair of scoreless ties recently, against West Bloomfield on Thursday and against state-ranked Troy Athens earlier in the month.
North Farmington will be hosting a tough district later this month with Northville and Novi also in the field.
Horner is also the head coach of North Farmington's boys team and talked of outside backer Samuel Zapata, who will play college ball at John Carroll University.
"He has one of the quickest releases of any player I've coached and he has a cannon for a left foot," Horner said of Zapata, who had 18 goals and nine assists as a junior.
Zapata talked of his decision to attend John Carroll.
"They had a really good season and it's a great academic school," said Zapata who has a 3.7 grade-point-average and plans to go to law school.
Tuttle still going strong at 70
Larry Tuttle is enjoying yet another year of coaching baseball at Blissfield High School.
Tuttle, 70, has the best of both worlds, enjoying the winters in Florida, then returning in March to coach baseball at Blissfield, where he has guided the program to seven state championships — Class C titles in 1973, 1976, 1977 and 1992 and Division 3 titles in 2000, 2002 and 2003 — and a state record 1,180 wins.
"I'm enjoying it," Tuttle said. "We're 18-6, playing well and we have a chance to be real competitive in the postseason."