Feature Friday: Tyler Konopka Opens Season With A Bomb

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.

NJ MileSplit recently caught up with Konopka, who hit a PR of 61-6 in the shot this past indoor season, for a very enlightening Q and A.

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.

Tyler Konopka Interview

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. 

Were you surprised to get a three-foot PR, or did you feel like it was coming based on your workouts? 

I was honestly surprised by the Pr, coming into the meet my goal was just to be at around 160. The release of the disc is normally what makes or breaks throws, and this week my release was seemingly not on point. I had been throwing in the low 160s this past week with a heavy wobble and was just hoping for that perfect release. To my relief, that release came on my second throw of the meet and with that 178-8.

You came into this season after hitting a big PR of 61-6 in the shot at the Ocean County Championships last month. So what kind of things have you been working on that you feel has helped you hit PR's in both your throwing events?

For the longest time I did not prioritize disc as much as I did shot. Shot put always connected better, so I did not spend that much time throwing the discus as it was harder for me to grasp how to become good at it. In the summer though, I took an extended break from shot to focus on discus. That is when my numbers started to sky rocket going from 151-7 to 175-4 in August. I have a very weak upper body comparatively to throwers around the country, but my lower body is significantly strong. So learning how to stay lower better during the throw in shot allowed me to use my strengths better, which really helped me break that 60 foot barrier. 

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. 

Tell me about the biggest goals you have for the rest of your senior season, and what do you think you need to work on or improve on to hit those numbers? 

My biggest goal for the rest of the season is to utilize my length better and to turn my hips better. My hips have always been my lagging area of the throw and they are the most important to my future development. On the rare occasions that I have turned them well, big throws have resulted. My number goals are 65ft and 190ft, but those are just goals until I can turn my hips better.
You are getting closer and closer to the county records in the discus (188-9) and shot (64-9 ½-which is also your school record). How motivated are you to try to break those records, and what do you think your chances are of becoming the King of the Ring in Ocean County in those events? 

I am very motivated by how close I am to those numbers. The two holders of those records being Todd Stueber and Dan Gilligan are amazing throwers. To even be in the conversation of being possibly the next in line to beat those records is humbling and a testament on how far I have come as a thrower. I certainly have a lot of work to do, but I will do everything in my power to be the King of The Ring in Ocean County. 

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. 

When is your next meet and how far are you hoping to throw?

My next meet is May 3rd, a tri meet, and then I have Ocean County Relays on May 7th. I hope to just be at 60 again and to hopefully throw a new discus PR to hopefully take down my school record. 

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.

When would you say you had your first huge breakthrough moment when you realized you could be a great thrower? 

The breakthrough moment that I realized I could become a great thrower was at my 8th grade county championship meet. It was the biggest meet of my middle school career. I came into the meet with a pr of 35 feet and was put in the middle of the second flight. Out of nowhere I threw a big pr of 39-2. This throw snatched me 6th place and a medal for the first time ever. After that throw my coach told me that in high school I could become a monster if I worked hard enough. Ever since that day, I have been trying to either prove that to be true and the best thrower I can be. 

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. 

Who is your favorite college/pro thrower to watch and why? And what have you learned from watching them? -

My favorite pro thrower to watch is a classic answer, it would be Ryan Crouser. His videos and constant dropping of bombs made me truly realize how great this sport was. I had no idea that people could throw 70ft with a 16lb shot, let alone 75ft. I learned that you do not always have to go a 100 miles per hour at the start of the throw to throw well. Ryan starts off slow and builds incredible momentum and speed throughout the rest of his throw, which allows him to hit near perfect positions to crush throws. 

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.