Six NCAA Division I Track & Field standouts swept the throwing events in either their conference’s indoor or outdoor championships last season.
Let me list the size of those guys for you: 6-4, 330 pounds; 6-1, 275 pounds; 6-2, 305 pounds; 6-5, 320 pounds; 6-2, 300 pounds, 5-11, 215 pounds. Something may have stuck out as you read the list. Only one of those stars checked in at less than 6-0 and 275 pounds – Kenny Sugishita from USC Upstate.
Sugishita put together one of the most dominating throwing seasons in Atlantic Sun Conference history despite being undersized for the sport, sweeping all weighted throwing events in the A-Sun’s indoor and outdoor championships.
“I am definitely smaller than the average thrower, so that served as a good tool to keep me working hard and to be as efficient as possible in practice and in the weight room so I can try to compete with them,” Sugishita said. “No one ever gets lucky in this sport; it comes down to the hours your willing to put into the preparation.”
His work ethic stands out for head coach Natalie Smith.
“Kenny is a very technical thrower in my eyes that really works through all the bases, whether that’s in the weight room, in the ring or doing plyometric type training. At the end of the day he studies himself and looks for the areas that he needs to get better and understands process. Understanding process and actually walking through process is what will give you advantages that cancel out your size.”
The hours have definitely paid off for the senior. He owns five USC Upstate records and a conference meet record despite having only one-year of Division I experience under his belt. The preparation joins focus to set Sugishita apart.
“The two qualities that Kenny exhibits the gives him an edge at this level is that he is truly self-determined and focused,” said head coach Natalie Smith. “I know that as coaches we may say that often however Kenny truly walks it. He carries a lot on his plate both in education and in academics and really never misses a beat. Kenny understands balance.”
Balance is a key component to championship technique for any thrower and for Sugishita, balance may be even more important due to his size. The basis of his technical training lies in his throws coaches.
“A major influence on my athletic career was my Junior college coach, “Coach Mac (Bob MacKay).” He not only created a great base in my technique in the events, but really taught me how to compete personally, and at a college level,” reflected Sugishita. “My coaches during my time at Upstate, Colton Hodge and Karl Gehrke keep me motivated every day and keep me humble as they were excellent throwers themselves in college.”
Kenny is not the only collegiate thrower in his family as his brother Tommy competed at Coastal Carolina and those common experiences and family support have been influential as well.
“Tommy and I, whether we like to admit it or not, are very similar in the competitiveness we have, and work ethic, and even simple mannerisms that we have as brothers,” stated Sugishita. “Both of us enjoy seeing hard work paying off, and we have always been able to relate to each other on any aspect of life. I feel like it’s because of that competitiveness in throwing that we share the same values. My family has always been very supportive of what I do, whether its sports, school, anything really. They are always there to remind me to work through any bad practices or meets and it helps keep me motivated through the good and bad days.”
As if he needed any additional drive, Sugishita remembers a childhood friend when needing a little more inspiration at the end of a day.
“A childhood friend of mine, David King, recently passed away after the most inspirational battle with a rare cancer. That has really added an extra push in my every day training and studying.”
Sugishita will get the first chance to make his case to be considered the best thrower in conference history in late February at the A-Sun Indoor Track & Field Championships. Until then, he will continue to prepare and fine-tune his technique like he’s been doing all along.