Former PHS Thrower Brennan Makes College Debut as PU Men’s Track Finally Up and Running in 2021
HAMMER TIME: Princeton University men’s track performer Paul Brennan displays his hammer throwing form in recent action. Sophomore Brennan, a former Princeton High standout, made his college debut this spring after the 2020 season was canceled due to the pandemic. He threw 189’4 in the Princeton Invitational on April 25 in his first collegiate competition. (Photo provided courtesy of PU’s Office of Athletic Communications)
By Justin Feil
Paul Brennan did not have to travel far to get to Princeton University, but he did have to wait a long time to begin his outdoor track and field career.
Brennan, a 2019 graduate of Princeton High, was thrilled when the Tiger men’s track and field team was able to take advantage of reaching Phase 4 of the University’s COVID-19 protocols to return to play. Phase 4 allowed full competition, and Brennan and the PU men were able to compete in the Princeton Invitational on April 25 and at the Fast Times Before Finals at Rowan University on May 1.
“It’s definitely exciting for all of our guys,” said Brennan. “At least for my class, we haven’t had any outdoor competitions. Our first collegiate outdoor competition was last weekend. We’re almost like freshmen coming in. We’ve been training for over a year and a half trying to prepare for a season.”
The preparation paid off. At Rowan, sophomore Ibrahim Ayorinde ran 20.88 seconds to win the 200 meters in the second-fastest time in program history. Freshman Daniel Duncan was second in 21.06, the third-fastest time in school history. Duncan also recorded the third fastest time in program history in winning the 100 meters in 10.47 seconds after running a blazing 10.42 in the trials. Junior Taraje Whitfield won the 110 hurdles in 14.60 seconds and freshman William Doyle took the 400 in 48.05 seconds. Sophomore Ethan Reese set a new personal best of 1:51.69 for the 800 meters. Senior Kelton Chastulik won the shot put at 54’ 8½.
“It’s a real testimony to the desire our guys have,” said Princeton men’s head coach Fred Samara. “I think it’s what sets apart our team from other teams we compete against. These guys are so close to one another and the team spirit they have. They don’t care where they are, they’re going to train hard and compete and light it up, which they’re doing.”
Despite the topsy-turvy training over the last year, limited interaction on campus, and no outside competition ahead of time, the Tigers showed in a wave of performances just why the program is so excited to have its full team intact next year. Eighteen men took the year off from school and several others are training on their own while they take classes remotely. Those on campus like Brennan have gotten back into the swing of things after students were able to return to campus for the second semester and went through the phases of return to play.
“We’re training like we normally do, like we do any day any year,” said Samara. “It’s different for a team sport like lacrosse or an indoor sport like wrestling or basketball. They weren’t allowed to do a lot for a long time until they moved into Phase 3. And there is no Phase 4 for them because they’re out of season. We could hit the ground running. A lot of the guys are going to keep competing through May and June and over the summer. There are tons of meets and they can compete unattached. That’s what the guys are doing that are out of school or away from school. It’s pretty incredible what these guys are doing.”
A group of athletes that are not currently on campus have excelled while training remotely. Robbie Otal threw 196’11 in the discus to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials. C.J. Licata threw 63’9 in shot put at the Ashland Alumni Open, the second farthest throw in Princeton history. Chandler Ault threw 228’8 in the javelin at the Don Kirby Tailwind Open, the third best throw in program history. Sondre Guttormsen has cleared an all-time Ivy best 18’10 in pole vault, and his brother Simen has cleared 17-11¾. Jeff Hollis has been training in Georgia to improve on his 7’2 high jump.
Across the world, Ed Trippas won bronze in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the Australian National Championships with a personal-best time of 8:31.09 that puts him closer to a chance to run for a spot on the Australian Olympic team. Another Australian, Duncan Miller, ran 3:43.89 for 1,500 meters to qualify for the national championships. Michael Phillippy ran 47.55 seconds for the 400, a personal best, at the Brian Clay Invitational in Azusa, Calif. Anthony Monte ran 14:00.78 at the John McDonnell Invitational in Arkansas on April 24.
“We’re seeing so many of our guys put down great times because of their hard work during the pandemic,” said Brennan. “So it really shows how well we persevered as a team and how strong we’re going to be next year.”
Brennan threw 184’6½ for third place in the men’s hammer at Rowan. He threw 189’4 in his first collegiate meet – the Princeton Invitational. His top mark came on his first throw, and he’s still figuring out how good he can be.
“The hammer is one of the most unique events in track and field for certain,” said Brennan.
“I think it’s by far the hardest event technically of all the throwing events, maybe in the entire sport of track and field. I was drawn in originally by that. I kind of like the complexity of that. There’s always more room to grow and learn within the event. I think that spark and passion has gotten me going for it. And having the athleticism and body awareness from being a pretty good discus and shot put thrower in high school has also helped a lot.”
The last time that Brennan was competing outdoors before two weeks ago, he was winning the New Jersey boys’ state title in discus and placing 10th in shot put. He has been enjoying diversifying his throwing portfolio.
“Hammer is primarily what I train now,” said Brennan. “I’m throwing about five days a week, and in the discus I’m maybe two or three. Right now, I’m primarily a hammer thrower. I’m really excited to continue progressing in the sport and learning about the sport and hopefully throwing big PRs.”
Brennan threw the hammer at the end of his final three high school seasons just to qualify for nationals in one more event. He has embraced it more since arriving at Princeton and shifted the focus of his training to his newest event. Samara saw potential in the hammer for Brennan.
“He’s going to be good,” said Samara. “It’s important to develop hammer throwers on your team. It’s something that people don’t normally do that much. He had done some hammer in high school.”
Since arriving at Princeton, Brennan has begun to work with Samara on the complexities of the hammer. Having a throwing background helped, and it has taken off quicker than anticipated.
“Coming into college, I didn’t expect myself to love hammer this much and develop a passion for it this early,” said Brennan.
“But I’m really glad that I’ve done it. The pandemic had a big role to play in it. As soon as last season was over, I talked to Samara and said, I’m really going to give hammer a go and train through the summer and make sure I have a full season of training and focus on it. It definitely paid off. I’m in a better spot than I thought I’d be last year as we were exiting campus. I’m excited to keep progressing and keep learning. I think my upside is bigger than people think, and I think I’ll surprise a lot of people going forward.”
Brennan took advantage of the proximity of his Cranbury home to Princeton’s campus to come over last summer to work out in their throwing circle. Not all the Princeton facilities were open then and Brennan is hopeful that he will have more access to training needs this summer.
“I was a lot luckier where I had at least a facility to go to, and my dad also has a nice home gym so I was able to do work with that,” said Brennan.
“I was definitely one of the more fortunate guys on the team in regards to a training situation during the summer. Fortunately I was able to train as hard as I wanted during the summer months. I found it extremely beneficial.”
Other teammates found difficult challenges in sustaining their usual training regimens while Princeton did not allow students on campus in the fall semester. Gyms around the country were closed, as were track facilities in many regions.
“That made it really difficult for a lot of kids,” said Samara. “The kids it affected the least were the distance kids because they basically needed to get out on the roads and run and they weren’t stopped from doing that. For a thrower, a jumper, a pole vaulter, it was terrible. For us, compared to the rest of the country which was allowed to come back basically in September, we couldn’t really start full training until the first week of February. A lot of the kids came back and we were able to train. We got a lot in and the guys trained exceptionally well. I was very proud of them about that. We didn’t have any prospects for meets at that point. We didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Just returning to campus gave the team a lift. Classes are still remote, but the team had the chance to come together for training. It’s become a daily highlight.
“It’s meant so much, especially to the younger guys,” said Brennan.
“Having our teammates back on campus, there’s a lot of new guys that we hadn’t met that I was able to meet just by being on campus. That’s been a big help for the team. With remote classes, it’s very hard to see people on campus because you’re kind of stuck in your room doing your classes and homework all day. Going down to the track, seeing faces, is definitely something I’ve enjoyed a ton.”
Training together has also added an element that was missing during the time away. There’s a competitiveness to the training environment now and Brennan feels it for himself and for teammates that he sees pushing each other.
“Developing that kind of chemistry, that kind of companionship with your teammates, we’ve already seen that come out during this time,” said Brennan.
“It’s going to be really exciting to see once we’re all back on campus, the level of fire and intensity being magnified with all of our guys who are enrolled now and the rest of the guys coming back. You’re going to see some really special things next year once everyone is back.”
Having some competitions – even just the two – is a step in the right direction. Those meets allowed the younger competitors to get a taste of college competition, and to see where they stand after an unusual year. It’s added encouragement to their training.
“We’re trying to get back into competition and get our competitive juices flowing again after a long break from competition and really set a set of standards that creates a path going forward for next season in which we’re going to strive to do some really great things,” said Brennan.
“I think a lot of our guys are focusing on this season to remind ourselves what it means to be a competitor, what it means to drive for faster times, bigger throws, higher and longer jumps. Having this season is going to fuel us to go forward into a really, really important 2021-22 season.”
Brennan is looking to be a big part of that next year with the hammer. It will be his third year in college, but he won’t have much experience competing with his new event. That hurdle hasn’t stopped him from aiming high and seeing the potential to be a major contributor with the hammer.
“What I think will make me good is I’m a hard worker, I love track and field and I love learning about new events,” said Brennan.
“That passion and fuel and having some solid athleticism and strength to learn the technique to progress, that will serve me well in the future. Where I lack experience, I have a lot of tools I can put in place to throw some bombs.”