Ethan Cochran, Steve Michaelsen and Marty Taylor took turns heaving a rubber shot at a handball wall at Newport Harbor High Wednesday afternoon.
They were training for Saturday's CIF Southern Section Track & Field Championships. All around them sounds and actions unfolded like that of a typical high school. Off to the side, football players banged at a rubber tire with a huge mallet. A few girls walked by giggling at the site.
Off to the distance, a girl's voice sang, "Paparazzi," by Lady Gaga. Other students rushed past the Newport throwers near the school's weight room, preparing for the school's Evening of the Arts event.
Amid the noise, Cochran, Michaelsen and Taylor blocked it all out and listened to their coach, Tony Ciarelli. As throwers, competing in the discus and shotput, they know they must silence the periphery and concentrate on their mission.
Their sole goal now is to advance to the Masters meet. They'll try to do that at the CIF meet Saturday, starting at 11 a.m. with the shotput at Mt. San Antonio College.
Wednesday's practice was mostly about technique, Ciarelli said. The rigorous workouts took place earlier in the season and that included Bulgarian weightlifting and martial arts-type training that left the big boys sore.
The hard work appears to be paying off. Cochran led a 1-2-3 sweep with Michaelsen and Taylor in both events at the Sunset League finals. Last week, they did enough to move on from Moorpark to Mt. SAC.
Cochran, a senior bound for UC Berkeley, is the leader of the bunch, aiming for state titles in both events and wanting to break the state record in the discus. He is the defending CIF state and CIF Southern Section Division 2 champ. He is No. 1 in the state in the shotput and discus.
His personal best of 209 feet, 8 inches in the discus, set at this season's Arcadia Invitational, is No. 7 all-time in the state, and No. 2 in the nation this season.
The state record is 213-11 by Scott Moser of Huntington Beach, set in 1997. The No. 2 all-time mark is held by Taylor's older brother, Bo, who did it while competing for Newport Harbor in 2006.
Both throwers were coached by Ciarelli, who usually finds his talented competitors in football, as he's the defensive coordinator for the Sailors' football team.
Ciarelli's method to success seems rather simple.
"It's just about work," Ciarelli said. "I like to work. I find the kids who want to work."
Ciarelli said he found a natural in Cochran, who first started competing as a sophomore.
Cochran played baseball as a freshman, but he said he didn't enjoy the season and tried throwing the following year after coming out for football as a sophomore and meeting Ciarelli.
"It's been a great experience," Cochran said of competing as a thrower the past three seasons. "Coach is the reason I'm doing well. He has developed us. All the work we've done, we can see all the work is being paid off."
Cochran says he doesn't feel pressure heading into Saturday's CIF meet.
"I know if I do what I've been doing all year, I'm going to win," said Cochran, who qualified first in the discus and second in the shotput last week. "We'll see down the line if I can throw a little farther and try to break the state record."
The three throwers still alive in CIF get along and push each other to excel, Cochran said. They hang out at times after practice.
The goal is for the three of them to go to state. When the competition begins on Saturday, they know they'll be battling against each other too.
Cochran and Michaelsen reached state last year. Michaelsen, a senior bound for Wake Forest, is eager to return. The first goal is to advance to the Masters meet, which takes place May 25 at Cerritos College. They must be in the top 12 across all divisions to move on.
Then at Masters, they must be in the top five to advance to the state meet June 1-2 at Buchanan High in Clovis.
It all gets Michaelsen excited. He's grateful for meeting Ciarelli too.
Michaelsen said he came to Newport Harbor from the Pegasus School wanting to play volleyball. But Ciarelli told Michaelsen to try track and field.
Michaelsen didn't think that could work because he only thought of running and he knew he wasn't fast.
"I had no idea about the throwing tradition here," said Michaelsen, who is No. 7 in the state in the discus and No. 10 in the shotput. "I always wanted to be a [NCAA] Division I athlete. Coach helped me find my niche and it's been really fun."
Michaelsen qualified third in the discus (178-4) and third in the shotput (56-0) last week.
Marty Taylor, a junior, said he came out for the track and field team because he saw how his two brothers, Bo and Jake, found success at Newport Harbor.
Bo went on to compete at UCLA. Jake is taking a year off from Princeton, Marty said. The three brothers have been training at Newport Harbor recently.
Marty, who is No. 12 in the state in the shotput, wants to keep it going in the Taylor family. Marty qualified eighth in the discus (165-10) and fifth in the shotput (54-1 1/2) last week.
"I want to move on," he said, referring to CIF competition. "I want all of us to move on."
Newport-Mesa area athletes competing in CIF Southern Section Track & Field Championships
Saturday at Mt. San Antonio College
Newport Harbor – Ethan Cochran (shotput, discus); Steve Michaelsen (shotput, discus); Marty Taylor (shotput, discus); Jake Barber (3,200 meters); Peri Howser (girls' pole vault); Paige Tennison (3,200).
Corona del Mar – Ryan Rodrigues (800, 4x400 relay); Karlèh Wilson (shotput, discus); John Swigert, Troy Hardy, Kyle Iverson (4x400 relay); Alex Imani (discus); Ashlee Powers (3,200); Braden Brahs (high jump); Thomas Testini (200, 4x100 relay) ; Cole Cottrell, Nick Willard, Lance Seger (4x100 relay).
Costa Mesa – Robert Blackwell (800).
Estancia – Persis Williams (100).
Sage Hill – Jack Percival (800).