CHATHAM, NJ - Sometimes Sam Dennerlein feels like he's just spinning in circles and not getting where he wants to be.
The Chatham High senior has done most of his spinning in the shot put circle, where he owns all the school records in the event. Still, he knows his best has yet to come.
"For me, it's all mental right now," Dennerlein said. "I've never been this strong, this healthy and this technically good. Yet, I'm only throwing slightly farther than I did last year. It's all mental. It's about getting into a zone and feeling the positions right and letting loose."
Dennerlein gave a sign last Friday that the peak portion of his season may have arrived when he threw 53 feet, 10 inches to break his own school record and help Chatham win the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 state winter track championship. He followed that with a slightly better throw of 53 feet, 10.25 inches at the Eastern States meet on Tuesday.
Sam Dennerlein is the Chatham Wealth Management Athlete of the Week.
In 2015, Dennerlein's older brother, Ed, helped Chatham gain a state sectional title by winning the shot put. The Cougars won their first sectional title since then last Friday, 65-59 over runner-up Irvington.
"I've never been more excited to watch a running event than when I was watching Sam Viola run the 4x4," Dennerlein said of the sectional-clinching relay won by Chatham. "That was a great moment for the team. I was yelling at the top of my lungs."
Dennerlein is now focused on the Group 3 Championships set for Feb. 29 in Toms River, where he'll be the 9th seeded thrower in a very strong field that includes Patrick Passalaqua of Old Tappan and John Purvis of Winslow Township. Both have thrown 60 feet this season.
"For the past couple of weeks, it's been a mental battle of not getting caught up in the moment," the 18-year-old said. "There has been a lot of pressure from outside factors, seeing my friends around the state making big throws.
"I've been training really, really hard. For the last month, I've only been throwing the 16-pound shot, building a foundation so that I can peak now with the 12-pound shot. I made a huge throw during practice in my back yard. Now it's time to do it in a meet. Maybe if we held a sanctioned meet in my back yard, I'd be state champion. I've been defeated by myself and my failures more times than I can remember. I'm ready to train through it and keep going."
Dennerlein added extra training last summer by driving an hour each way to Red Bank and training with his personal coach, Jon Kalnas, twice a week. Kalnas threw 67 feet at Paulsboro High and 64 feet at Monmouth University before making the Olympic Trials in 2008. At age 39, Kalnas is aiming at one last shot at the Olympic Trials this summer.
"Part of the stuff he was doing was unorganized," Kalnas said of Dennerlein. "My position is to organize him so that he can do well at these bigger meets. It can be a very frustrating sport. Sometimes it's a matter of rehearsing the uncomfortable. I'm there to give him real talk about what he needs to do.
"He needs to visualize his purpose rather than be blinded by what other people are doing. A lot of things have to happen simultaneously. What he needs to do is take the adrenaline he takes into a meet and use it to his advantage. I'm old school. The shot put is in my family. My uncle was my coach and my father is 76 and he still throws."
Dennerlein is all-in when it comes to Kalnas' approach. The fact that Dennerlein finished third at the county meet was of no consequence to him. The focus has been the meets taking place at this time of the season.
"He was the one who switched me over from the glide to the spin when I was a freshman," Dennerlein said. "He'd rather have me place in the states rather than win a state title. Now is the time to make it happen."
Kalnas expects Dennerlein to perform even better in the discus and hammer throw when he attends Boston University next year.
"He'll probably throw 185 or 190 in the discus this year," Kalnas said.
Dennerlein's best throw in the discus last spring was 166-7 and he has his sights set on the Chatham High record of 178-7 now held Jake Neuman.
Editor's note: The Athlete of the Week is sponsored by Chatham Wealth Management in recognition of the commitment a Chatham athlete has made to their sport, their school and their community. For over twenty years, Chatham Wealth Management has been committed to putting our clients first by crafting customized investment solutions. Call us at 973-635-4275 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how we can help meet your financial goals. To learn more about our products and team, visit us at www.chathamwealth.com.