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Pless repeats as NCAA shot put champion

GRINNELL, Iowa -- Bates junior David Pless seems to have thoroughly taken to heart the old expression that records are made to be broken.

The defending NCAA indoor shot put champion, Pless (Atlanta, Ga.) broke his own Bates record this indoor season in five different meets. On Saturday, he did it again.... and again.... and again. Pless broke the NCAA Division III Indoor Track & Field Championship record by 9.5 inches to claim his second straight crown, a day after finishing fifth in the weight throw.

“I felt really good and relaxed in the circle, very consistent with my technique," Pless said. "I didn’t really feel like I ever hit ‘the big one,’ but I can’t believe I was able to go over 60 feet three times like that.”

The first competitor in the first flight of the event, Pless had the event's top two seeds immediately following him, and he put the pressure on them right away, releasing a first effort of 17.93 meters -- only a centimeter shy of his latest Bates record, set a week ago at the ECAC Division III championships.

That effort would have stood up for second place the rest of the way through, had it been his best. But his second effort sailed 18.44 meters, a new personal, meet and school record. That was followed by the 18.45-meter mark on his third and final attempt of the preliminary round, 9.5 inches beyond the former NCAA championship mark of 18.21 meters (59-9), set in 1996 by Aaron Banks of Concordia-Moorhead. Pless's winning mark of 56-6 a year ago now seems almost quaint by comparison. The 18.45-meter effort marked the seventh time this indoor season that Pless broke his own Bates record in the event.

“We’ve been avoiding all this talk about defending his title, because last year meant absolutely nothing this time around," said Al Fereshetian, Bates' head coach and Pless's throws coach as well. "He just told me a little while ago, ‘Coach, this is the first time I’ve thought about what it means to repeat.’ He was totally engaged in what he had to do. I think it shows a lot of maturity for a kid to step up like that.”

Pless set the NCAA Division III Indoor Championship record of 60-6.5, or 18.45 meters. (Photo by Jay Hartshorn)

Pless's first effort in the finals traveled past the meet record for the third time, at 18.35 meters, and his next attempt went 18.10 -- good enough to tie for first place, had it been his best attempt, but for Pless it was only the fourth-best effort of his remarkable afternoon.

Wisconsin-Oshkosh junior Nick Baatz went 18.01 meters on his first attempt to pass Pless, but his lead was short-lived. Baatz finished second in the event, based on his second effort of 18.10 meters.

Following Friday night's third-place performance by Bates' men's distance medley relay team, and Pless's fifth-place showing in the weight, Bates concludes its amazing indoor season by tying with Wisconsin-Stevens Point for ninth place among 60 point-scoring teams in the NCAA Championship. Together with the women's distance medley relay team that finished in eighth place on Friday night, Bates sent nine athletes to the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships and came home with 10 All-Americans and a national champion.

The Bates men's team, which in past weeks won its first New England Division III and ECAC Division III indoor team titles, boasts the highest score of any institution east of Illinois and Wisconsin.

Pless indicated perhaps equal pride his performance yesterday in the weight, in which he competed at NCAAs for the first time. After fouling on his first two attempts, he came through with a personal record effort to make the final and claim his third All-America honor, and his first outside of the shot put. “That was probably one of the proudest moments of my life," he said. "I think if I can respond to the pressure of competition like that for the rest of my life, and carry myself well, I think that’s way more important than throwing a ball far.”

Pless's title is the seventh NCAA championship ever claimed by Bates in men's indoor track and field, and the 16th in indoor and outdoor combined. He becomes Bates' fifth man to win two NCAA track and field titles, joining the ranks of Wayne Pangburn '66 (two-time outdoor hammer throw champion), John Fitzgerald '87 (indoor 5,000, outdoor 10,000), Jaime Sawler '02 (indoor weight throw, outdoor hammer throw) and Justin Easter '03 (two-time 3,000 steeplechase champion).

When Pless won his first NCAA title a year ago, Fereshetian couldn't resist commenting that it was only the beginning for the powerfully built, 6-foot-5 Pless. “David’s just a tough guy, who wants to work -- even as a freshman he was like that," Fereshetian said Saturday. "I’ve never seen a kid who works as hard as he does."

Pless continued to visit a personal trainer four days a week over the summer, but over the past fall semester, along with first-year prodigy Sean Enos (Lynnfield, Mass.), he raised the intensity of his workouts, and maintained that raised intensity level deeper into the indoor season than a year ago. As opposed to years past, he also put in equal time training for both the weight and the shot.

“He was training like a madman up to two weeks ago, and then we started backing off, using lighter weights, lighter implements, to work on his speed and quickness," said Fereshetian. "That gave him the opportunity to be at his best. But you can't do that unless you’re willing to put in the work all the way through.

"To come out to nationals and have a PR in both events at the end of the season, that speaks volumes about David."