Camaraderie between the duo of junior weight thrower Gaza Odunaiya and senior shot putter Jordan Porter has led to high marks, record throws and a high success rate for the Bobcats.
The Ohio throwers are a close-knit group. With only about seven of them, the bond they share comes naturally.
“Just as throwers, we understand each other, even if we don’t necessarily do the same events, so it’s just nice to have people that understand what you have to put into everyday work,” Odunaiya said. “You don’t necessarily get that with other event groups.”
The Bobcat throwers spend a lot of time with one other, led by the leadership of their throws coach, Nick Pero. A lot of the other event groups for the Bobcats train individually and on their own time, but that isn’t the case for the throwers.
“The throwers alone, I would say, are much closer (than other event groups),” Porter said. “We’re together all the time — we lift through the mornings together, we come to practice together and, outside of track, we’re all really good friends.”
The small throwing contingent for Ohio was at the root of its success in the indoor track and field season this year. In the six meets leading up to the Mid-American Conference Championships, the Bobcats had at least one thrower place in the top five every meet.
Ohio had three throwers place in the top 10 at both the Youngstown State Invitational and Kent State National Qualifier. At the Thundering Herd Invitational, five throwers placed in the top 10. The throwers’ best performance as a group came at the Marietta Alumni Open, however, when they earned first and second finishes in the shot put and swept the podium in the weight throw.
To put into perspective just how powerful the impact from the throwers has been this season, at the Thundering Herd Invitational, 27 of Ohio’s 39.5 points came from the throwing circle. At the MAC Championships, four of Ohio’s 13 points came from its throwers.
Odunaiya and Porter have been the leaders of the throwing contingent this year. Odunaiya’s marquee event is the weight throw while Porter excels in the shot put. The two didn’t finish a meet in the indoor season without placing in the top 10 and led Ohio to a pair of seventh-place finishes at the MAC Championships.
Odunaiya’s climb to the top came steadily, meet-by-meet this season, which is the perfect scenario for any track and field athlete. She worked her way up from the beginning of the season all the way to the sixth meet of the season in Columbus, improving her scores in the weight throw each meet.
Her performance of a lifetime came on Feb. 16 at the Buckeye Tune-Up, when she broke the university record in the weight throw with a 19.07 meter (62.5 feet) launch.
“It’s really rewarding, but going forward, I just hope to improve that,” Odunaiya said of the record toss. “Of course, records are meant to be broken, so just seeing the program do so well, hopefully in the future, people will go past that as well.”
Odunaiya’s success in the weight throw didn’t come as easy as it sounds. She grew up in Athens and attended Athens High School, so she didn’t have the opportunities to try events like the weight throw and hammer throw at school. When she attended Ohio, she was open to trying new throwing events.
“You get tired of the same old sometimes,” she said. “Just being open to learning and doing weird and different things will definitely get you far.”
Now with a school record on her resume, Odunaiya feels much more comfortable with the different style of technique the weight and hammer throws bring.
“After my sophomore year is when I really started clicking,” she said. “Now it’s just time to tweak what I’ve learned and perfect it.”
Porter’s indoor season, however, went down almost the opposite as Odunaiya’s.
Porter qualified for the MAC Championships in Ohio’s first meet of the season at Marshall in December, accomplishing one of her main goals at the start of the season.
For any student-athlete, maintaining the motivation and focus to compete with a maximum effort for the rest of the regular season would have been a challenge, knowing one of their main goals had already been set.
She embraced that challenge, though.
“Really just working for yourself helps,” Porter said. “Just because you’re already in doesn’t mean you can’t improve, so the harder you work, the better you’re going to throw.”
Outside of track and field, Porter has had to balance the pressure of graduating next fall. She says time management is the key to staying on task.
“If you have something you have to do, you know you have to be here at this time so get it done before then,” she said. “If you stay organized and have good time management, I think it should work out, so that’s how I keep it balanced.”
And when it comes to leadership among the throwers, Porter doesn’t believe in just one leader — she feels as though it’s a team effort.
“We all work hard; we all do stuff for each other,” she said. “I’d like to say that I’m a pretty good leader, but I don’t look at myself above anyone else. I feel like we are all on this same playing field besides our year.”
If Ohio wants to see success this outdoor season, it will most likely have to rely on its throwers again.
Even though the throwing unit for the Bobcats is small in size, their camaraderie will play an important role in how far their success can reach.
“We understand each other,” Porter said of the throwers. “So therefore, if she’s having a bad day, you just know what to do for each other because we’re all really great friends inside and outside of the sport.”