Chad Wright’s No. 1 goal: Reclaim the NCAA discus title he won in 2012.
By Randy York
Too bad Yogi Berra wasn’t watching the men’s shot put at the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships Wednesday night in Eugene, Oregon. If baseball’s legend had been in the stands, he could have walked down near the field after the event was over and shared a piece of wisdom with Nebraska senior Chad Wright and his throws coach, Carrie Lane. After interviewing both student-athlete and coach last week, I could only envision what Yogi would have said…something like: “You were both right, and both wrong at the same time.”
A Yogi-ism came to mind because both the teacher, who recently won an NCAA Midwest Region Assistant Coach of the Year Award, and the pupil, who happens to be a three-time NCAA First-Team All-American in the discus, could sense each other’s mindset before they climbed aboard a charter flight from Lincoln to Eugene last Sunday.
It’s been a tough year for Wright in the shot put and it ended Wednesday night when his season best throw of 62-10 prevented him from advancing to the finals and ensured a 13th-place finish, eight notches below his fifth-place First-Team All-America finish as a junior. Lane, the coach, continued to motivate because she wanted Wright to bring his “boxing gloves” to Eugene, so he could “pummel the face” right out of that 16-pound iron ball. The strategy must have worked because Wright, the athlete, did, in fact, pass 10 of the 23 performers who ranked ahead of him entering the NCAA meet.
Wright Has No Regrets. He Just Wants His Title Back
What we had here was reality bites and any number of Yogi-like witticisms could have painted the portraits unfolding inside Wright’s head.
Yogi said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up someplace else.”
Wright told me: “Some people say there are certain things they wish they did or could do over. Personally, I think I did everything I needed. My goal this year is to reclaim my NCAA title in the discus. That’s my main agenda. That’s my focus. Once that event finishes Friday, my college athletic career is over.”
In my pre-NCAA Outdoor Championship conversation with Wright, he could hardly say the two words I wanted to discuss…shot and put. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a Yogi-ism inside his head that could have worked perfectly: “I wish I had an answer to that question because I’m tired of answering it.”
This isn’t the first interview of my life, so I switched gears and deleted an “s” from discuss and that seemed to put some bounce in Wright’s voice because we finally were getting to the only word he wanted to talk about – discus.
Wright Had Best Second-Place Throw in NCAA History
“I’m about fourth in the nation this year,” he said without pausing to remember his NCAA gold medal performance as a sophomore and his second-place finish last year despite uncorking the longest second-place discus throw in NCAA Championship history.
“”I want to reclaim my title,” he said. “We have a well-rounded team this year. We need to score points. I think we have a really good chance of placing well in the NCAA this year. Last year, I got second. This year, I’m trying to do better. I want to finish first, and I’m ready to take on the challenge.”
Wright praises Lane for helping him embrace the competition. “She’s pretty much revamped and refined my technique,” he said. “She’s also given me some great tips on focus, eating right and sleeping right.”
He’s not surprised. “Nebraska was the best of all the schools I visited,” the Kingston, Jamaica native said. “When you visit, you can see how they take charge, and that was a real plus for me. I liked the support system I saw for athletics. That’s one of the main reasons I decided to come here.”
Team Loaded with Depth Makes Practice More Fun
Knowing that he won’t graduate until next May as a major in mathematics and a minor in business, I’m curious about his interests post-degree. “I’m not sure yet,” Wright said. “Next year will be the indicator of whether I’ll be able to stay here. I’ve really enjoyed this year. We have a lot more (NCAA) qualifiers and it’s competitive. It makes practice more fun and more interesting.”
Ah, practice, another word for a tailor-made Yogi-ism: “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice,” Yogi said before adding: “In practice there is.”
“Chad had a personal best last year and finished second after winning the year before,” Lane pointed out. “It’s going to be a fierce battle. The No. 1 guy’s from Kentucky and the No. 2 guy’s back from UCLA. He’s the guy that beat Chad last year. In a meet like this, it can be a completely different outcome. The wind affects the discus tremendously. Whatever marks people have coming in mean nothing. This meet is a completely different ball game.”
A disclaimer is in order before we end The N-Sider. Yogi once said: “I didn’t really say everything I said.”
When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Just Take It
With that in mind, we end with the best Yogi-like advice that Carrie Lane can give Chad Wright before Friday’s ultra-competitive discus throw: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Here’s another way to put it: However Wright finishes Friday in the discus, he can do something he’s probably already considered – buy a shot put somewhere and bury it.
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