Monmouth shot-putter making plenty of noise

Posted: May 13, 2002

For shot-putter Jon Kalnas, it's all in the yell.

"When I get in the circle, there's a certain yell I have. It's not fake," Kalnas said. "Most of my thrower friends say they know before I get in the circle how I'm going to do by the way I yell.

"Sometimes I yell to wake myself up or get myself out of that shell I'm in. The yell gets me out of my mental block."

The performances by Kalnas yell loudly that he is the greatest shot-putter in Monmouth University history. The 1998 Paulsboro High graduate holds the Northeast Conference championship and the school records for both indoor and outdoor throws.

His school outdoor mark is a personal-best 63 feet, 1 1/2 inches. That distance earned him second place at this year's Penn Relays and provided automatic qualification for the NCAA championship meet to be held at Louisiana State University on May 29 to June 1.

His indoor mark of 64-6 was good for fifth place at last winter's NCAA indoor championships.

On Saturday at Princeton, Kalnas hopes for another personal best as he goes after the Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America (IC4A) meet record of 65 feet.

"For me, the IC4As are the biggest meet," Kalnas said. "I want to get the East Coast record. I haven't thought about [the NCAA meet]. That really hasn't gotten into my head yet. But I know if any of those giants are sleeping, I'm going to get one of them."

Monmouth weight coach Marc Gottdenker notes that "those giants" are four men who have broken 70 feet this year. He said it may be the best shot-put field the NCAA meet has ever produced.

"Anything's possible, but it would take very odd circumstances for him to win," Gottdenker said.

Some extenuating circumstances led Kalnas to Monmouth, but there is little doubt he was destined to be a shot-putter.

Jon's father, Joe, and Joe's five brothers were all shot-putters at Paulsboro. Some of them still compete in Masters meets despite being in their 40s and 50s. In Jon's freshman year, his uncle, John, decided it was time to start on the new generation of Kalnas shot-putters.

"The Monday after we beat Florence for the state [football] championship, he just pulled up to our house and said 'Let's go,' " Kalnas said.

His uncle took Kalnas to Broad Street Elementary School, handed him a shot and said, "Here. Throw this."

"He just kept coming over every day and developed a routine," Kalnas said. "I couldn't say 'no.' I didn't want to be ignorant."

It was quite a sacrifice, considering Kalnas' attention span when he went to his father's Master events.

"I would go to those meets and say, 'Why would I ever throw that thing?' " Kalnas said. "I'd just go run around and play in the woods while they threw or go get in trouble somewhere."

But Uncle John's tutelage paid off, and Kalnas began to emerge as one of the top shot-putters in the state. He finished second in the Meet of Champions his junior and senior years and was fourth and third in the nation, respectively, those same two years. His personal best of 66-8 as a high school athlete is among the top 15 all-time in the state.

Despite scholarship offers from Clemson, Iowa State, Auburn and Ohio State, Kalnas opted for Manhattan.

"I was in a relationship and didn't want to go too far from home," said Kalnas, who transferred to Monmouth after one year to be with his girlfriend, who also attended Monmouth.

"I came here to be with her. I thought it would work out, but it didn't," Kalnas said. "It kind of went down the drain, but Monmouth turned out to be a pretty good place. It's weird, but it worked out."

The relationship ended a week before last year's Penn Relays, which could have been devastating, but Kalnas turned it into a positive.

"It was on my mind," Kalnas admitted. "I almost cracked at the Penn Relays. I got a good throw, fouled all the rest, and told myself to either step up and do something on my last throw or crumble to the ground."

Kalnas promptly won the event with a throw of 61 feet.

"To me, throwing is my therapy," said Kalnas, who also throws discus but concentrates on shot. "Throwing brings out my actual personality. I feel I can do anything in front of anybody."

In his three years at Monmouth, Kalnas has won three indoor and three outdoor NEC titles.

In his junior year, he won every indoor event he participated in except for a second-place finish at IC4As, third at the Millrose Games and 11th at the NCAAs. In the outdoor season, he became the first Monmouth athlete to win an IC4A title, but hurt his back in the process.

That affected him in the NCAAs as he faulted on every throw. He rebounded for a 15th-place finish at the U.S. national meet "with the sharpest technique he had all year," according to Gottdenker.

The back problem, though not as bad as last year, periodically flares up on Kalnas. Still, he has won every event this spring except for his second-place showing at the Penn Relays. At the indoor NCAA meet, two of the four men that finished ahead of him were in the Olympics.

"He turned a lot of heads indoors," Gottdenker said. "There were some big-time coaches in the stands saying, 'Who's this guy? Where's Monmouth? What's that all about?' I was sitting off to the sides hearing guys pulling their hair out.

"But that's an indication of where Jon is right now, physically and technically. He's ready to throw at a national level, and, if he can keep his organization going over the next few years, he might be able to compete internationally."

Kalnas, a psychology major, will walk with his class at graduation this month but needs two classes in the summer to officially earn his degree. After that, he hopes to channel his energy toward a possible Olympic trial.

"The nice thing about not being a college athlete is that you can sleep and rest. You're not in a structure where you're competing with a team, going to class, doing other things," Gottdenker said. "You can focus a little easier when you're not in a regimented system."

Even in that system, Kalnas has set new standards for Monmouth's track and field athletes.

"He's raised the level of expectation for everyone in our program," head coach Joe Compagni said. "He's someone who his teammates train with every day who is now at a national level. They see that, and maybe they want to raise their sights higher, too."

They will, of course, have to come up with their own yell.

Contact Rich Fisher at 856-779-3849 or rfisher@phillynews.com.

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