Photo by Jaron Martinsen
Back in the spring of 2018, Chett Brunner was a sophomore high jumper at Century High School, one of the top 2A track and field programs in the state. He had cleared 5'4 in the high jump as a freshman but had only jumped 5'2 that spring. That year, he made a transition to the throws, setting modest personal bests of 34 and 98 feet in the shot put and discus, respectively. Fast forward two years and Brunner has improved steadily to become one of the best throwers in the state. After throwing 45 feet as a junior and finishing among the top six at both the 2019 indoor and outdoor state meets in the shot put, he came into this past winter a changed thrower, winning his first competition of the year. It wasn't long before he cleared 50 feet, and he went on a run through the end of the year to win county, regional and state titles.
What happens with the upcoming outdoor track and field season remains to be seen, but Brunner has already established himself as one of the top throwers of the class of 2020 in Maryland. His 53'9.75 personal best mark from the Carroll County Championships was third-best among Maryland boys this winter. As we patiently await to learn the fate of the 2020 outdoor season, we caught up with Brunner to find out just how he has made his dramatic improvements.
MileSplit: You didn't start throwing until your sophomore outdoor season; before that you had mostly focused on the high jump. Why the change? Did things change for you physically? Was throwing something that you simply wanted to try?
Chett Brunner: I made the change to the throws because I wasn't making any improvements in the high jump after freshman year. I jumped 5'4 outdoor as a freshman, which is decent. I grew a couple of inches and gained about 20 pounds that summer and fall. As a sophomore, I jumped 5'4 again indoor, but I didn't jump higher than 5'2 outdoor. It was very frustrating, and after a while, my interest in high jump died. I also felt like I was too big for high jump. I think I was 5'11 and 170 pounds as a freshman. Now I'm 6'2 and 205 pounds. While I was struggling in high jump, my parents were nagging me to try shot put. I didn't want to do it at first since I was trying to fix my high jump technique. Eventually, I tried it and learned the basic technique. After my first meet, I fell in love with throwing. I stopped high jumping and committed to learn more about throwing and improve that summer. I joined the Arrows summer track program in my area and did two meets.
MS: You made big improvements between the first season you started throwing (spring 2018) and the next (winter 2019). Was that just a matter of getting comfortable with the training and getting comfortable with the motion of throwing shot and discus?
CB: Yes, it definitely had to do with getting familiar with the technique and motion. I was still a newbie to throwing going into my junior indoor season, so I experimented with some of the different shot put techniques to see which one worked the best for me. I went from a basic "standing throw" technique from my first season outdoors for both events to the "glide" shot put technique for my first indoor season. Century had a new throwing coach for the indoor season so I learned more technique then too. I also watched a ton of videos and spent countless hours studying how elite throwers throw.
MS: Is there anything specific about your training over the past years that you believe was instrumental in your improvement?
CB: The first thing was improving my technique. Coach (Nick) Agoris has a good eye for seeing technical issues. The other thing that really helped me in my training a lot is throwing lighter/heavier implements. During the season, I use heavy implements to gain specific strength. I would also throw lightweight implements to work on speed. Along with throwing different weights, I also spend a lot of time drilling the movement. I do drills every day. Drills can become tedious, but they really pay off.
MS: The results also show a similar jump between the spring of 2019 and this past winter in your shot put performances. What kind of training are you doing in the summer and fall between track and field seasons?
CB: For the 2019 outdoor season, I switched to the rotational (spin) technique. I realized every thrower is different and needs to find the technique that works best for him or her. Just before the regional championship that season, I met Coach Nick Agoris who is a local private throws coach. He coaches a little guy I met through the Arrows Youth Track program (my high school coach encouraged us to volunteer for Arrows, so I did because I met the Arrows head coach. She was actually an official at some of my high school outdoor meets). Braeden is a young thrower and I met his dad who told me about Coach Agoris. I was nervous about contacting him but am really glad I did. He's awesome and knows so much about throwing. He is a great motivator too. After the 2019 outdoor season, I determined that the rotational technique was the best technique for me. I worked with Coach Agoris once each week (and I still do). I also did a lot of weight training to make big strength gains. My dad helps me focus on my weight training technique.
MS: Do you play any other sports in the fall at Century? Did you play any other sports before you got to high school? If not, what sport(s) would you have liked to have played outside of track and field.
CB: I have not played any other sports for Century. However, I played in a local recreational basketball league from 2011 through this year. I also played baseball from 2006 to 2012 and earned a Black Belt in 2016. I think martial arts taught me the importance of setting goals and how to focus. My martial arts instructors would preach "happy but never satisfied." Looking back, I kind of wish I tried playing football because football is pretty fun and lots of people think I am football player or a wrestler at first. In fact, the Century football and wrestling coaches have tried to talk me into these sports, but my focus was on improving my throws.
MS: When did you first get into martial arts? What sort of physical benefits do you think transfer over from it to track and field (and specifically throwing)?
CB: I started martial arts when I was ten years old. The biggest benefit of it that carried over to throwing was flexibility. It's a no-brainer that you need to be flexible in martial arts. You also need to be flexible for the throws. Martial arts really helped improve my mobility too. Unfortunately, I had to stop doing it when I was about 14 years old because my schedule got crazy heading into high school.
MS: What was it like earlier this season when you won your first major shot put competition at the Terry Baker Invitational? What were the feelings seeing your name at the top of the list for the first time?
CB: Winning the Terry Baker Invite was awesome. That was my first victory at any indoor meet and it gave me a boost of confidence for the rest of the season. It always feels really good when your name is at the top of the results sheet no matter if it's a big meet or not. The Terry Baker Invite set the tone for me this season and it motivated me to win more meets. I wasn't too happy with the distance I got there (48'7.75) since I wanted to open my season above 50 feet. Nonetheless, it was still a solid start to the season.
MS: As you kept winning shot put competitions throughout the season, did your mindset change in the days leading up to meets where you knew that you were the favorite? How about your mindset as you prepared to step into the circle?
CB: My mindset definitely changed as I kept winning more meets especially during the championship season. As the championships approached, it was more about winning and scoring points for my team. There were a few seniors last year who scored a lot of points for us. I kind of felt pressured as a senior to score lots of points for my team this season. My most important personal goal for this season was to win the state title. The regular season is where I try to hit as many PRs as I can. Of course, I need to keep hitting PRs at the championships, but if I didn't then it was okay. I threw my PR at counties and almost did again at states. Being the favorite at these kinds of meets definitely gave me more confidence and motivation to win. It was a lot pressure though and I got pretty nervous but excited before each meet.
MS: How about the discus? Do you feel that you have made similar strides in the discus leading into this spring compared to the ones you made in the shot put? Which of the two events is your favorite?
CB: I definitely have made big improvements in the discus, but not nearly as big as the gains I've made in shot put. This is mainly because I prefer the shot much more than the discus. I haven't been a big fan of the discus, but it's starting to grow on me. I spend about 85% of my time practicing shot put and 15% at discus. For this outdoor season I'm definitely going to spend a lot more time honing my discus technique. I'll be throwing both shot and discus in college and I want to excel in both of these at the same time.
MS: What about the college aspect of track and field are you most looking forward to?
CB: For college, I'm looking forward to throwing the shot and discus as well as trying the other throwing events. I can't wait to learn the javelin and hammer throw. My primary focus in college track will most likely be shot put though. I'm also looking forward to the challenge of throwing heavier implements.
MS: What was the hardest point or moment in your throwing career that you have had to overcome so far?
CB: The hardest part of my throwing career was when I had a weird problem with my left shoulder during the end of the summer last year. I don't know exactly what it was, but there was no pain involved. The doctor called it a nerve palsy. It caused severe weakness in my left arm. So I had to take two months off from throwing. It went away on its own so it wasn't a big deal, but it was a detriment to my technical/strength progress. Fortunately, I went straight to work after I was cleared and my progress picked up again very quickly.
MS: You mentioned watching videos and studying elite throwers. Is there anyone in particular that you try to model your form or technique after?
CB: I study lots of elite throwers, but the one I study in particular for shot put is Joe Kovacs. I wish I could move as fast as he does in the circle. I always love watching Ryan Crouser throw, but he is 6'7. Both are rotational throwers, but Kovacs is closest to my height so he is a better technical model for me. Body height has an impact on technique. I sometimes take videos of myself throwing at practice and compare my technique to Kovacs'.
MS: I know the outdoor season is very much up in the air, but do you have any specific goals for the season if and when it happens?
CB: I have many goals for the outdoor season. However, the most important ones are to win another state title in the shot, medal at states in the discus, and break 60 feet in shot put. No one in Carroll County history has ever thrown that far. I want to be the first. It's not going to be easy hitting that distance, but I believe I can do it as long as I stay focused on the process and stay positive.
Favorite non-track sports moment: Scoring over 20 points in a game for the first time in rec basketball.
Funniest teammate: Henry Seabrook. He was a sprinter for Century and was a senior when I was a freshman. He's an absolute goofball but he's hilarious!
Favorite local restaurant: I love the Cheesecake Factory in Columbia. They have the best giant salads! I love salad.
Favorite weight room exercise: Front squats are by far my favorite weight room exercise!