In the first 78 years of the Heptagonal Games, only one person — a 6-foot-6, 270-pound Irishman named Nick Sweeney — had ever flung the discus more than 200 feet. A rugby player before enrolling at Harvard, Sweeney — a four-time Olympian — threw a Heps’ record 205-0 at a meet in Salinas, Calif., as a senior in 1992.
In the last two years, two guys from New Jersey — Sam Mattis of Penn and Stephen Mozia of Cornell — have joined Sweeney. Mozia ended his career — hampered by injury — with a disappointing performance in the shot put on Wednesday. Mattis, on the other hand, put together an amazing series Friday in Eugene, Ore., ending with five straight throws of at least 200 feet, including a dramatic event-winner.
Just the second Heps’ discus thrower to claim a national title, Mattis was two inches behind Tennessee’s Tavis Bailey heading into the final round of throws, but his final heave of 205-0 allowed him to join Yale’s Vic Frank (1949) as a Heps’ discus champion and 10 other League throwers who have won men’s outdoor NCAA titles.
“It still doesn’t feel real, not sure if it’ll ever sink in,” Mattis said afterward. “I felt really great throughout the competition. Every throw felt closer and closer to what I’ve been working toward the whole season, and then I finally did it.”
Mattis’ victory makes Penn the first Heps’ team to have a national champion in all four outdoor throwing events. Grant McDougal won the hammer in 1932, Carl Shine the shot put in 1959 and Brian Chaput the javelin in 2003. In fact, just six other schools — California, LSU, Oregon, Southern Cal, UTEP and Washington — can make such a claim.
While Mattis was the only active Ivy League to earn top-eight All-America status on Friday, two alums had fourth-place finishes. Peter Callahan, a Princeton grad now representing New Mexico, led a tactical 1,500-meter run at the bell, but was passed by three runners on the final lap. His 3:55.22 was about a quarter second behind winner Chad Noelle of Oklahoma State.
Dartmouth graduate Will Geoghegan — now an Oregon Duck — was fourth in the 5,000-meter run in 13:49.35, less than a second behind his teammates Edward Cheserek and Eric Jenkins, who went 1-2 just as they’d done in the 10k on Wednesday night. Thomas Awad of Penn, who was running near the front midway through the race, pulled up in the unusually warm conditions and did not finish.
The NCAA Championships will come to a close today with the women deciding their national champions. Five members of the Heps Nation will be competing — Kaitlin Whitehorn of Dartmouth in the high jump (4:30 pm), Josie Natrasevschi of Brown in the discus throw (4:35 pm), Nadia Eke of Columbia in the triple jump (5 pm), Jade Miller of Harvard in the 400-meter hurdles (6:30 pm) and Dana Giordano of Dartmouth in the 5,000-meter run (7 pm).