Stronger People, Stronger Athletes

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By Sarah Bergstrom, USC blog contibutor

The USC-UCLA Dual Meet is this Saturday (April 27) starting at 11 a.m. PT at Loker Track Stadium on campus.

The throwing events included in the sport of track and field are all about strength. When someone pictures a typical hammer thrower, an image of a giant, intimidating and physically strong, comes to mind. Without a doubt, it takes incredible physical strength to power a heavy, metal object through the air for hundreds of feet. However, it's not often that people notice or applaud the mental strength that is also required for these athletes to be successful on the field. 

Ozorai-Hammer-NCAA.jpgThe USC women's throwing squad has a storied history and has continued to be incredibly successful this season. Their dominance has been across multiple events but most notably in the hammer throw where USC has had 12 female athletes score at the NCAA Championships in the past 14 seasons. These women have assuredly been strong, but head throwing coach Dan Lange has learned that good marks always begin with great character. 

"I think we are successful because we go out and get the right girls. We emphasize personal development first with the theory that better, stronger people make better, stronger athletes. We've also gotten leadership from some of the better athletes to create a cohesive environment of success," says Lange. 

All but one of the top ten male and female hammer throwers in the school's history have been coached by Lange and all but one of the record-holders in men's and women's hammer, discus, javelin and shot put have been coached by Lange as well. This legacy has included international throwers, Olympic throwers, and throwers of all shapes and sizes, but one constant has been the establishment of individual character and strength within his athletes. 

Jenny Ozorai fits this description to a T. A two-time All American from Hungary, Ozorai followed in the footsteps of former Trojan greats like Eva Orban, Balazs Kiss, and Julianna Tudja by coming to USC to compete in the hammer throw. Lange says the continued success of recruiting in Eastern Europe can be attributed to the positive reports Hungarian athletes have sent home after coming to school at USC.

According to Lange, the Trojans have had an athlete from Hungary on the squad every year since 1992. Ozorai's success as a Trojan began immediately as she finished sixth and fourth in the hammer throw in her freshman and sophomore seasons at the NCAA Championships, respectively. She also finished 3rd and 2nd at the Pac-12 Championships in those seasons and is second all-time on the female throwers list with a throw of 223-4.

This year, the junior started her season winning the Trojan Invitational with a throw of 204-0. She later won the Cal State LA Invitational with a season best throw of 209-5 (63.84m) winning for the second time in two meets. Her goal is to chase down the top spot on the USC all-time hammer throw list, beat her current collegiate PR of 223-4, and place in the Top 3 at NCAAs. 

The throwing program places an emphasis on building strength of character in order to build a strong individual. Lange believes that the stellar performances of recent seasons have come because the focus has been placed on being better individuals. He says this character building process is sort of like holding up a mirror and learning to change based on the reflection that's seen. For Jenny, he says that process has helped incredibly. 

"Normally a person sees their reflection and realizes some aspects aren't that attractive. We work with them, have them face and overcome their weaknesses, and go from there. For Jenny, it was the opposite. It was about helping her have a realistic view of who she is. She is far better than she thought, far stronger than she thought, and far more of a leader than she thought before coming here. She is just starting to get a grasp of that, and just starting to realize the type of athlete she can be," says Lange. 

Lange says having strong character compensates for other areas that athletes may not be as outwardly dominant in. Ozorai, for example, is incredibly small for her sport. Standing at 5'3", the junior is a foot shorter than 6'3" Ida Storm who she will face this weekend against UCLA. Lange says she may not look physically competitive within that comparison but believes that Ozorai is stronger inwardly than just about anyone else. 

Ozorai isn't the only Trojan thrower displaying success and promise this season. Sophomore Alexandra Collatz, who set the USC freshman discus record in her first meet last season, set a collegiate PR this year at the Cal-Nevada Championships throwing 178-6 (54.42), and is second on USC's all-time discus list. She won the discus at this year's Trojan Invitational throwing 176-4 (53.77). An All-American last season, Collatz is looking to move into the top all-time discus spot and has plenty of time to do it. Teammate Tera Novy, only a freshman, has already earned a spot in the USC top 10 list throwing discus. She finished second at the Trojan Invitational this season and is learning to diversify to other throwing events as well. 

The Dual Meet this weekend will be another opportunity for the Women of Troy to continue their continued success and help the women's team beat UCLA for the sixth consecutive time. With both the Pac-12 and the NCAA Championships on the horizon, Lange and his squad are ready to show that they really are stronger than the rest.

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