A shot in the arm

The success Northeast's Nicole Sohn has experienced as a shot putter has helped her become more confident - on the field as well as off.


Northeast senior shot putter Nicole Sohn remembers the options like they were presented to her just the other day: sprinting, distance or throwing?

She was a freshman at the time and her soccer coach had encouraged everybody on the team to go out for indoor track.

Having ran enough in soccer, Sohn had a quick response when the track coach asked everybody for their event choice.

"I said, `Throwing sounds good.' I had no idea what it consisted of, but I knew it wouldn't be much running. So I did it," she said last week at practice with a laugh.

Four years, one indoor state title and a number of county and regional crowns later, Sohn has emerged as one of the top shot putters in the state, with a goal of adding more ribbons to her resume in upcoming regional and state meets.

Finding success at something she enjoys has helped shape her high school years.

"I remember the first couple times she threw around 19 feet and I kind of laughed and said, `Is that it?' " said her mother, Pat Sohn. "Then she handed me the ball [8.8 pounds] and I was like, `Oh my heavens.' Now, she makes it look easy. It's given her a lot of confidence in other areas and helped her become such an open and comfortable person."

So how do you go from throwing 19 feet in her first toss as a freshman to surpassing 39 feet twice during the winter and winning the state title with an impressive heave of 38 feet, 10 inches?

The answer from Sohn is detailed, starting with a constant battle to perfect the proper technique, to finding an interest in weight training, to coming into the circle with the correct mental approach.

"Eventually, it all clicks together, and, for me, that came this past indoor season," said Sohn, thinking back to her state title throw. "I was just calm and relaxed. You just know when it comes out right. You have that nice arc in your back, you stay low and you shoot across the ring and let it go. It all pieces together. It was exciting, an adrenaline rush, and it was all smiles that day."

Sohn, who also throws the discus and placed second at last week's county meet, makes sure that she - and her teammates - have plenty to smile about. With an approach that stresses hard work and having fun, she has become a leader on the squad.

"We have fun all the time, whether it's the way we do some drills or singing Disney songs before a throw. As long as I keep my mind clear as I'm throwing, I seem to do better. But if I start thinking about the little things I need to do, I start to break down. You just have to relax," Sohn said.

Sometimes, that's easier said than done.

Throwing at around 35 and 36 feet to start the indoor track season, Sohn jumped up to over 39 feet in consecutive meets to help propel her to the state title.

Northeast coach Elmer McPhail described Sohn's breakthrough as "an overnight-type thing with all the hard work paying off."

In the spring season, however, with an aim of reaching 40 feet, she has dropped back down into the 36-to-37 feet range, with a winning toss of 35 feet, 11 3/4 inches proving to be enough to capture her second outdoor county crown last week.

Going into the spring season, McPhail worked with Sohn on making some adjustments with her release in hopes of adding length to her throws, but it didn't come around. There's also the added pressure for Sohn as being regarded as the thrower to beat. The two are confident she can return to top form when it counts the most in these next two weeks.

"Athletics can be a roller coaster, and when you're up, you have to enjoy it because there's going to be times when you're down," McPhail said. "You can't beat yourself up, but just know that you have to keep working hard and it will all come back. That's what we're planning."

Ken Miller, an assistant football coach who teaches weight training, has enjoyed watching Sohn go from a quiet freshman to a bubbly, confident state champion.

"She's set such a great example for the others," said Miller, who taught Sohn in two weight training courses. "Track has always been a sport kids would just do because they either didn't make other teams or wanted to find an extra-curricular activity. The kids have seen Nicole work hard and succeed, and just from her leading by example, our track program has improved."

Sohn, a B-student who is undecided on a college, is unsure whether she will throw the shot put at the next level, but she will be content either way.

"If I never do it again that's OK," she said. "I don't know if it would be the same fun in college. This has just been a nice four years."


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