Tyler Konopka is one of those track and field stars that not enough people know about.
Outside of Ocean County and the Shore Conference, the Toms River South throwing star has flown a bit under the radar around the rest of the state the last few years.
But make no mistake about it, the 6-5, 260-pound Konopka is a name you should start remembering. The Princeton University-bound stud wasted no time getting everyone's attention this spring with some bombs in the circle.
Konopka, who is motivated to hit some huge numbers and break some big records this season, opened his season with a big PR and NJ#1 178-8 in the discus in a dual meet last Friday at Jackson Memorial. He also unloaded the shot 57-4.75.
Konopka, a true student of the sport, talked about how driven he is to try to break his school and the county records in the shot and discus, how inspired he is by his friendly competition with Colts Neck's Cole Tucker, how a recent subpar performance lit a fire under him that has fueled his passion and pushed him to work even harder, and a whole lot more.
So, kick back and enjoy our latest installment of Feature Friday as we shine the spotlight on Toms River South's Tyler Konopka, one of the state's biggest throwing stars.
NJM: Can you describe just how awesome it felt to back in the ring and bombing a PR and NJ#1 throw of 178-8 in what was technically your first meet of the spring season? -
Just watching the disc cut through the air and fly that far was amazing. Prs are the things that we track athletes strive for, and I am glad to have started on the right foot for my first meet back with the disc. The 178-8 was on my second throw and was preceded and succeeded by fouls, so it really came at the right moment.
You really made a big jump in your PRs from the spring of 2019 to this past summer/fall when you competed in some invitational throwing meets. What is the biggest different from then until now for you?
The biggest difference from then until now has been my approach to experiences and how to handle them. My junior indoors season I got caught up on what many of my peers were throwing and fell into a lull of just trying to throw far rather than perfecting my technique. Everyday, and every meet is a learning experience for me. This indoor season started off very poorly and the breaking point was Indoor Nationals in Virginia. I had such a bad performance and was thinking back to how in the summer, I easily could have made the finals and placed. The six hour car ride home led to a lot of self reflection in what I was doing and what I needed to work on. I came home with probably the most passion I ever had to do what I knew I could do. I was done with being complacent and started to experiment more with my technique. The disappointment of that day fueled me to throw 60ft at my next meet, and then to be able to end the season with a pr of 61-6 under my belt.
To be a great shot and discus thrower you need to have a rare combination of quick hips, agility, power, and balance. What do you consider your greatest strength as a thrower?
I consider my speed and my explosiveness to be my greatest strengths as a thrower. Since the pursuit of ridiculous strength is on going, my speed helps me to balance out what I lack in power. As well as having a decent wingspan which allows me to extend more than most over the toe board.
What would it mean to you to break the county record in either the shot or discus or possibly both?
To break the disc record would be something I could never have dreamed of if and when it happens. Discus always confused me so much that I steered clear of it in middle school, and started tossing it around in 9th grade to see what would happen. The shot record though, has meaning beyond what I could describe with words. Todd threw that mark when I was an 8th grader, and I had heard plenty of stories of his successes. Frankly, I wanted to be him. It was great enough I was going to be in the same throwing program that he went through, but I also went to the same private coach as him with my teammates. Everything I have done in my high school career has been to chase the ghosts of his legacy, while paving my own. Whether I beat his record or not, I am grateful for the mark he set. As it has been my biggest driving factor for all these years.
How fired up do you get when you see a guy like Cole Tucker launching bombs (over 65 feet) in the shot? I'm sure that pushes you even more to work even harder.
I have met a lot of great throwers in my tenure of high school track and field and can honestly say that Cole is one of the best throwers I have ever met. At the end of sophomore year, we rose up the ranks together. As well as battling back and forth while trading places. It is amazing how much we have grown as well as the fact that we are both in group 3 as well as share the same conference. I wouldn't want our friendly rivalry to be with anyone else. We always seem to bring the best out of each other, win or lose. Just witnessing his whole indoor season and his achievements have made me eager to push our battles to new heights, and with that hopefully new prs for both of us.
Who is your throwing coach and in what ways have they helped you improve as much as you have over the last few years?
I would say I have more than one throwing coach, each one having their own great insight to help me propel myself to the next level. These coach are Mr. Maldonado and Mr. Drack, who are my high school's throw coaches. As for private coaches, I have been Coached by Joe Napoli, and Jon Kalnas. Coach Napoli has been the primary coach for all of my track and field seasons. Coach Napoli was the coach that got me from being a 35ft freshman to now being a high level athlete in both events. I have also worked with Jon Kalnas a lot in the past year, who has given incredible advice with the throws and in the weight room.
Can you tell me how, when and why you first got involved in track and field?
I first got involved in track in the 7th grade. When I was younger I always admired the runners, and aspired to run the long distances as they did. I soon realized that long distance was not in the cards for me and became a sprinter, running the 100m dash. At my middle school, we had to do two events each meet so I chose shotput as my second event. At first I barely practiced shot, but soon realized I also was not that fast. With all these realizations, shot put became my main event with me throwing a whopping 28ft with the 8lb shot that year in 7th. From then on out I had my heart set on throwing the shot put.
What do you love the most about being a thrower?
The things I love most about being a thrower are my teammates and my competitors. My teammate Robbie and I have been friends and teammates for the past six years. We started off as strangers who grew into best friends, but honestly more like brothers. We have constantly pushed each other literally at every step of the way. Whether it be in shotput, Discus, and the weight room. Along with having great teammates, I equally love my competitors. Throwing has some of the best sportsmanship I have witnessed. Whether it be an intense shore conference meet or the Meet of Champions, game recognizes game. There are always "great throw", and SAVE IT"'s being yelled no matter who is winning or losing.
How about the future, Tyler. Do you have plans for college yet? What schools are you looking at, and what would you like to major in?
Yes, I have actually committed to Princeton University, and will be attending the school this fall, I chose the Ivy league route to get the best education possible as well as join the best team the league has to offer. Right now I am undecided on what major I will pursue, but am looking at their political science major or their economics major.
What type of things do you like to do when you're not throwing or doing schoolwork? Have any hobbies or are you involved in any other sports or clubs/activities at school?
My life gets pretty much consumed by track and schoolwork, but when I am not doing those I work at a pool store being your friendly neighborhood pool boy. At school I am involved in student council as well as trying my best to do what I can for my grade level. Other than track, I greatly enjoy playing basketball. With my height it would appear that basketball would come naturally to me, but I was always very bad at it. This year though, I have had more time on my hands to get better. Basketball is my activity to do when I need to get away from any stress caused by school and track.