By Dan Guttenplan
---- — NEWBURYPORT — The distance crew is typically the first thing that comes to mind when reflecting on the Newburyport track team’s dominance over the last few seasons.
Names like Carleo, Santo, Suprin, Conway and Orlando have keyed the indoor team’s back-to-back Division 4 state championships, as well as the team’s back-to-back second-place finishes in the same meet during the outdoor season.
One senior that has flown under the radar as he is risen to the top of Division 4 in his event is Steve Preston. The senior thrower placed second at the Division 4 Championships in the winter on the heels of a season in which he broke Keith Walton’s school record in the shot put. Preston’s top throw of 53-7 eclipsed Walton’s mark, set in 1964, by seven inches.
Heading into the Newburyport outdoor season, which starts tomorrow with a meet at North Reading, Preston is looking to break Richie Pace’s school record in the shot put of 53-3, set in 2007, and earn his first Division 4 state championship in either the shot put or discus.
“One thing that’s helped is he’s gotten stronger,” said Newburyport coach Tim Foley. “He’s done much more in the weight room. His weight has fluctuated up and down, but he’s finally at 200 pounds. That’s still small for a shot-putter, but he’s quick and he has great hip action.”
Preston is the rare shot put specialist who can also record points for his team in the sprint events. During the indoor season, he placed fourth in the 55-meter dash at the Cape Ann League Championships. Foley compares Preston to his rival, Perry Mroz, an Amesbury senior.
“They do the same thing,” Foley said. “They’re both good around the circle, and they throw and run well. That combination enhances everything.”
Preston’s ascent to state-title contender in the shot put has been gradual. He was a junior varsity track team member as a freshman, with a top throw of 38 feet. By his sophomore season, he was recording throws in the 43- to 44-foot range. His junior season, he peaked at 49 or 50 feet. This season, he’s up another four feet.
“We saw great promise his freshman year, but it’s remarkable for someone to improve by at least four feet every year,” Foley said. “He still has plenty to accomplish in the discus. After throwing the shot put all winter, that was stale. Now he looks great throwing the discus.”
With even a small improvement in the discus from last season, Preston will likely break the school record of 148-3, which Jim Barrett set in 1965. Foley expects Preston to face plenty of competition in his quest for his first state title.
“There’s some heavy competition in our division,” Foley said. “The fact that he was second indoors will hopefully bode well for outdoors. There will be a couple of guys in the 54 to 55 feet area. Hopefully, Steve will continue to see improvement.”