Williamstown High School senior thrower Dan Manion never planned on competing in track and field when he entered high school.
After playing football in the fall of his freshman year, Manion tried out for the basketball team in the winter.
“I got cut my freshman year,” Manion said. “Since my older brother did track throughout high school, my goal was to try it. I ended up liking it.”
Three years after Manion first picked up a shot put for Williamstown, he enters his senior year as one of the top throwers in South Jersey. Manion emerged as an athlete to watch after qualifying for the NJSIAA Meet of Champions for the first time last spring and finishing in 13th place. Now, Manion is not only looking to return to the MOC, he is ready to become a contender for a state title.
Manion’s emergence as a top thrower in South Jersey came after years of development, hard work and perseverance. The development began on day one in his freshman year, when Manion discovered there was a lot more to competing in shot put than simply throwing.
“It was very difficult,” Manion said. “It was a lot of form you had to know. And it’s a lot different than all of the other sports. I was used to playing basketball, baseball, football when I was little. Doing track in high school is a lot different because it’s all you.”
Even after his first winter season, Manion wasn’t sure track and field was his sport. He considered trying out boys lacrosse in the spring instead of continuing track. Manion credits the encouragement of coach Mark Suk for sticking with shot put in both the winter and spring.
“I wanted to try something new,” Manion said. “(Suk) talked me out of that. I just ended up doing this.”
Manion’s decision to focus on track and field paid off. After not coming close to a 40-foot throw in his freshman season, Manion began throwing more than 40 feet with regularity as a sophomore. Manion’s progress in 2018 allowed him to set bigger goals for 2019. However, his 2019 indoor season was a disappointment, as his best throw was 47-6 ¾.
“I don’t even know,” Manion said of the cause of his struggles last winter. “I wasn’t staying in the circle at all. Nothing was adding up to me.”
In the 2019 outdoor season, Manion began to feel better about his technique. In May, he hit a PR at the Tri-County Conference Championships, taking first place with a throw of 49-5 ½. He went on to finish fifth at the South Jersey Group 4 sectional and qualified for the NJSIAA Group 4 Championships. At states, Manion’s best throw of 48-11 put him in 12th place and made him the last athlete from the group to qualify for the Meet of Champions.
“I actually thought I was only going to make it to states,” Manion said. “I was surprised when I placed (12th) in states.”
Meet of Champions was where everything came together for Manion. Months after an indoor season where he struggled to throw better than 47-feet, Manion launched a huge toss of 52-7 ¾ at the Meet of Champions, by far the best of his career.
“I was shocked,” Manion said. “I was surprised. I was happy.”
Manion’s big performance last season set the stage for what could be a very special senior year. Manion had a strong start to the season at his first meet on Dec. 23, where he had a top throw of 50-8. Manion said he is now routinely hitting throws of more than 50 feet in practice and believes he has the ability to do much better.
“It’s honestly mostly strength,” Manion said. “I haven’t worked that hard in the weight room (in the past). But now I know I need to get stronger.
“I go to the gym outside of school, I go to Edge (Fitness,)” Manion continued. “I do a lot of lifting there. I also do some techniques in the house when I’m bored.”
Manion wants to hit a throw of 55 feet by the end of the indoor season and 60 feet by the end of the spring. Considering only two throwers topped the 60-foot mark at last year’s spring Meet of Champions, Manion could put himself in title contention if he reaches his final goal. This fact is one of the motivating factors for Manion as he aims to set new PRs in every meet he competes in this winter.
“Last year in the Meet of Champs, there were only three juniors with better throws in my class that were above me,” Manion said.
“Right now, I think I’m sticking with them.”