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Lewis, Pezel named White County Field Athletes of the Year

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Imagine if Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker were a little shorter.

And a lot, well let’s call it stockier, perhaps.

You see North White’s Jak Lewis and Damon Pezel, right?

OK, maybe not. But the Vikings’ duo feels like they have that sort of relationship. There are no light sabers, but the North White throwers wield something that is possibly more powerful in their hands — a discus and shot put.

Lewis, the senior, and Pezel, the junior, have bounced ideas and thoughts off each other for at least three years running. The breakout came for both this season, when the pair reached the Lafayette Jefferson Regional. Lewis qualified in the discus, and Pezel qualified in the shot put. For that reason, the pair was named the White County boys track and field Field Athletes of the Year.

“That’s it, basically,” Pezel said of the Jedi comparison. “It’s been a lot of me looking up to him, especially for discus. It’s starting to prove he’s teaching me good stuff. And we’re just trying to teach the younger kids that.”

The pair set a goal to reach the regional after a 2018 sectional performance in which Lewis placed fourth in the discus and Pezel placed sixth in the shot and 10th in the discus.

“Last year, Damon was throwing 100s in discus, and I was super-excited,” Lewis said. “I could see him getting past me and going beyond me.

“Damon has it all — speed, strength agility. He’s really good on his feet for a guy who’s massive. He’s bigger than life, yet he keeps his balance really well.”

Pezel’s discus distances improved — he placed fifth at the Benton Central Sectional with a toss of 125-6 — but he prefers the other implement. It’s a unique quirk, because his middle school art teacher, Mrs. Eccles, introduced him to the discus first.

“When I first started back in sixth grade I had an art teacher that told me, ‘You should do discus because you have big hands,’” Pezel said. “I go out there, and I figure out quickly that I love shot put more than discus. It was something I picked up way more easily. I was getting (placement) ribbons in sixth grade when no other sixth-grader was doing that.”

Pezel threw the mid-40s most of this season, with seven first-place finishes and both Midwest Conference (44 feet, 0.25 inches) and Benton Central Sectional (45-6) championships to his name. He was runner-up at the relatively prestigious eight-team Caston Invitational.

“Damon got off to a good start at the beginning of the year, and just kept improving throughout the season,” Vikings head coach Bryan Heimlich said. “He’s one who will stay after if he can, come in on the weekends and throw on his own, things like that. He just kept progressing.”

Pezel’s breakout in the circle came simply, to hear him tell it: “It was me coming to a realization that I needed to make these bigger jumps. When it came to the meets, I didn’t do a switch at the end of my throw until later in the season.”

Meanwhile, Lewis is the opposite. Matt Sipkema and Jody Orr, the dad of one of his friends, introduced Lewis to the throws late in his middle-school career. Lewis tried shot put, but “ended up falling in love with discus. Discus was just kind of like an art form for me.”

Lewis believes discus throwing enables one to be more in control of your muscles, control of body. The “fluidity” of the complete action is something he is more comfortable with. His shot put form always had a hitch in it, because he tried to muscle the shot more than use speed and rotation to push it outward.

Lewis missed a couple dual meets this season, but won every dual meet he participated in, and was also named Midwest Conference champion (118-5). He placed third at the sectional (133-3) and 14th at the regional (127-8).

“He had a strong season last year, built on that. He was throwing pretty solid going into the sectional,” Hemilich said. “At that meet, there were a couple kids who threw pretty well, but Jak was fortunate enough to throw one of his better throws of the season as well and was able to become a regional qualifier.”

Lewis has come to live with his end-of-season results, but still uses the word “choke” to describe his sectional performance. The now-graduate also knows he hasn’t been the same since incurring a football injury during his junior year. He went from throwing high 120s and low 130s as a sophomore to “just getting by,” at first. Lewis still hasn’t had surgery to repair the dislocation, and need until the end of this season to reach what he feels are comparable distances almost two years later.

“It caused a big hitch in his throwing,” Pezel noted. “The season he came back after it happened, his first (discus) throw was under 100. So he’s treated the last couple seasons like rehab. And he got back to where he was.”

As Pezel speaks, Lewis nods. The senior knows the junior is uniquely qualified to critique him, and the feeling is reciprocated. And it goes back to the mentor-mentee relationship, as the pair basically goes off by themselves during practices and meets. There is the occasional tutoring of an underclassman, but they’ve mostly drawn from each other — and YouTube videos of international throwers.

“It’s just like, ‘OK, copy these.’ It sounds kind of childish, you know?” Pezel said. “But we’ve figured out what works best for us and we’ve made a lot more improvements.

“I think it’s actually given us the opportunities to get better quickly.”

As the pair walks back to their vehicles, Lewis asks Pezel if his side feels better. Pezel remarks, “sort of.” He hurt himself working with a 20-pound shot in an effort to bulk up and prepare for the future. The NFHS approved weight for high school competitions is 12 pounds; colleges use 16-pound balls.

“I’m not at the point where I want to be,” Pezel said. “I need to put in more work in the weight room and need to do more reps over the summer.”

There is also a new goal — get into the upper-40s and low-50s. Pezel has tossed 50s in practice, because “there is no fear of scratching.” It’s just a matter of translating it to the ring now, because three consecutive scratches at the regional didn’t sit well with him.

“I didn’t have the time of my life (at regionals), but it was more of gaining experience for me,” Pezel said. “I know where I have to be — I know I have to make big jumps in distances. It was nuts to watch some of those guys’ technique. It was fun.”