Records fall, Catylynn Duff's best of them all
One state record-breaking throw wasn't enough for Catylynn Duff to secure the 2A girls discus title.
Duff, the Culver junior, entered Thursday's discus finals at the State Track and Field Championships with the top distance thrown at the 2A level of 128 feet, 8 inches.
But within a few feet of her were Elgin senior Tania Whitmore and Riddle senior Moana Gianotti. The three throwers turned the finals into an instant classic, as the old state record was topped 11 times in the span of one hour. The continuous battle of one-upmanship wasn't decided until the last throw of the competition, which belonged to Duff.
She had already outdone her previous regular season personal best, when she landed a 132-4 — at the time a new state record. Whitmore had hit 127-0 earlier in the competition, and although Duff had thrown a further distance May 13 at the CBC district track meet, marks outside of the state meet don't count as state records. Gianotti threatened to upend Duff's first-place position with a throw of 131-9, just seven inches off her top mark.
"It kind of wiped away all my nerves I had going throughout the day," Duff said of the competition amongst her, Whitmore and Gianotti. "It just gave me confidence to try to outdo the person ahead of me."
Because Duff had launched the furthest distance entering the finals, she earned the position of throwing last in each round, which gave her an obvious advantage of seeing how far she needed to throw. That was an important distinction in the end.
With Duff waiting on deck to take her final throw, Whitmore landed yet another state record, this time for 134-11, topping Duff's best throw by two feet, seven inches. Suddenly, Whitmore appeared to have stolen the state title, barring one last-ditch heave from Duff.
"One of my fellow coaches turned to me and said, 'Is she a competitor?'" Culver head coach Mike Dove recalled. "I said, 'Oh yeah, she's a competitor. She's not going to back down.'"
Duff went through one last progression, closing her eyes and taking a breath before stepping up to the throwing circle. Her spin and rotation clean, Duff let go of the disc and watched a beauty fly down the field. She shattered Whitmore's and the old state record by nearly four feet with a measurement of 138-7. Her teammates, family and coaches immediately ran up to embrace the state champion and record holder, who gave the Lady Bulldogs their first points of the meet in an eventual seventh-place finish.
"It's amazing to know that I was able beat those girls today (to set) the top record in state," Duff said. "It just makes all the work that you put in worth it."
Those who watched the event from the bleachers behind the discus field, just south of the Hayward Field track, saw an evenly matched field of competitors, particularly the top three, within a few feet of each other on nearly every attempt.
"You have 11 throws in the competition that beat the former state record; you've got three girls going at it … to be able to have the confidence and calm to win it on her last throw was pretty amazing," Dove said.
At midseason, Duff started to fear she was plateauing. She had topped out at 125 feet even in the second meet of the season, and saw several weeks go by in which she didn't top the 120-foot mark. But, after she set a PR at districts, she assured herself she was peaking at the right time in the season.
From the onset of the 2017 season, people within the Culver program had plenty of reason to be optimistic that Duff could win a state title in either the discus or the shot put. She had already made state appearances in her freshman and sophomore seasons in both events, but coming into this season, she trained in the offseason and also received extra coaching during the spring. She reached the podium in shot put by placing seventh at state this year, with a best distance of 34-7.5, though she expected to have a better chance of placing high in the discus.
"She put in the work, worked through the offseason and that work paid off," Dove said.
Because both Whitmore and Gianotti are graduating this season, Duff will be an early favorite to win next year's 2A girls discus title as a senior.
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