SACRAMENTO, Calif. —Aberdeen-based Team Evolution didn’t send any national champions to the podium this year, but still had some strong showings at the USATF National Junior Olympic Championships on July 28 in Sacramento.
JaBron Brooks was the highest-finishing Team Evolution athlete with a personal-record distance of 15.48 meters in the shot put in the boys 13-14 age group. That distance was just 0.44 meters behind Eugene Brooks IV who won the event with a throw of 15.92.
JaBron Brooks may have been the victim of some bad luck on one of his throws as well. Brooks hit a low-hanging branch from a tree on one of his throws that looked to negatively affect his distance on the attempt.
Team Evolution coach Shaun Straka was impressed with JaBron’s attitude, but thinks he should have left Sacramento with a gold medal.
“He should have won. He drilled a tree branch on a 49-foot throw that, if it doesn’t hit that tree branch, he’s a national champion,” he said. “He showed up and he was there to win. His attitude was great. He finished second but given the circumstances, that’s outstanding.”
Tyara Straka also had a strong showing in the shot put with a distance of 12.40 meters in the girls 15-16 age bracket to take third.
Tyara fell about a meter short of the gold, which left Shaun and Tyara feeling somewhat disappointed in the result.
“The winning throw wasn’t out of her reach, so that was frustrating,” Shaun said. “Even though she got third place I think everybody walked away from that frustrated because we didn’t get the gold.”
Mataya just missed out on the bronze medal in the 13-14 girls discus, throwing a 32.95 for a personal record and a fourth-place finish. The fourth-place finish would be her best result on paper for the meet after scratching on her attempts in the shot put the next day.
Mataya Straka was called for foot faults during her throws as she struggled to find the proper positioning while rotating to throw. With all the time spent helping her refine her technique, Shaun said watching Mataya scratch was almost too much for him to handle.
“We spent 1,000 days drilling this rotation. We spent three years preparing for the track meet and putting our heart and soul into something,” he said. “To see her fail in her eyes brought a tear to my eye. After she competed I just had to go walk away to a dark, 105-degree parking garage and let the emotions go because it was that hard as a dad and coach to watch.”
Though her throws weren’t officially measured, Shaun estimates her throws were getting distances between 47 and 50 feet, which would have been good enough for second place had she not faulted.
Shaun took part of the blame for Mataya’s technical issues since he feels like the trees that affected JaBron’s shot put throw also played a role in her missteps.
“Where I failed as a coach, and where I failed Mataya the biggest, is I did not get her an opportunity to practice in the ring so she could prepare for the claustrophobic feeling you had with those tree branches hanging over you everywhere,” he said.
Mataya, Tyara and JaBron were Team Evolution’s top finishers in a group that sent six athletes to nationals.
Thang Tran participated in the long jump, Joseph Straka in the discus and Keith Olson competed in the shot put.
Tran, Joseph and Olson failed to reach the podium in their respective events, however Shaun thinks getting his athletes out there to see the level they need to reach to compete for a national title is a healthy experience.
“You’re first time dealing with national competition and your first time dealing with those jitters and those nerves, I always expect the first year to be rough,” he said. “It’s really hard to prepare a kid to see those things. To see a 21-foot long jumper, to see that many kids at one competition, you can’t prepare a kid for that.”
Shaun walked away from this year’s national meet somewhat disappointed by the lack of gold medals. Team Evolution had its streak of nine straight years with a national gold medal snapped in 2019, but the team is already planning to redeem itself in 2020 for nationals in Jacksonville, Florida.
With Mataya back in the weight room less than 24 hours after scratching in the shot put, Shaun anticipates every one of his athletes to come back stronger next year.
“I think we’re going to be even better next year. The kids are motivated and focused. All we’re going to do is continue to improve on technique. We’re going to get stronger. We’re going to get faster,” he said.