Amherst’s Moriah Luetjen (400 meters), Logan Alfandari (shot put) capture titles at MIAA Div. 4 Track & Field Championships (PHOTOS)

Amherst’s Moriah Luetjen heads toward the finish line en route to a first place finish in the 400 meters at the MIAA Division 4 Track & Field Championships on Saturday at Westfield State University.

Amherst’s Moriah Luetjen heads toward the finish line en route to a first place finish in the 400 meters at the MIAA Division 4 Track & Field Championships on Saturday at Westfield State University. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Amherst’s Logan Alfandari throws the shot put en route to a first place finish at the MIAA Division 4 Track & Field Championships on Saturday at Westfield State University.

Amherst’s Logan Alfandari throws the shot put en route to a first place finish at the MIAA Division 4 Track & Field Championships on Saturday at Westfield State University. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Northampton’s Maddalena Figueroa-Starr runs the 400 meters at the MIAA Division 4 Track & Field Championships on Saturday at Westfield State University.

Northampton’s Maddalena Figueroa-Starr runs the 400 meters at the MIAA Division 4 Track & Field Championships on Saturday at Westfield State University. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Northampton’s Maeve O’Neil runs the 1-mile at the MIAA Division 4 Track & Field Championships on Saturday at Westfield State University.

Northampton’s Maeve O’Neil runs the 1-mile at the MIAA Division 4 Track & Field Championships on Saturday at Westfield State University. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Amherst’s Ella Austin competes in the 400 meters at the MIAA Division 4 Track & Field Championships on Saturday at Westfield State University.

Amherst’s Ella Austin competes in the 400 meters at the MIAA Division 4 Track & Field Championships on Saturday at Westfield State University. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Amherst’s Calvin Miller (2046) competes in the 1-mile at the MIAA Division 4 Track & Field Championships on Saturday at Westfield State University.

Amherst’s Calvin Miller (2046) competes in the 1-mile at the MIAA Division 4 Track & Field Championships on Saturday at Westfield State University. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Northampton’s Allie Sullivan, left, and Amherst’s Kora Brissett compete in the 100-meter dash at the MIAA Division 4 Track & Field Championships on Saturday at Westfield State University.

Northampton’s Allie Sullivan, left, and Amherst’s Kora Brissett compete in the 100-meter dash at the MIAA Division 4 Track & Field Championships on Saturday at Westfield State University. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Northampton’s Teddy King-Pollet, left, looks back at his competitors during the 1-mile at the MIAA Division 4 Track & Field Championships on Saturday at Westfield State University.

Northampton’s Teddy King-Pollet, left, looks back at his competitors during the 1-mile at the MIAA Division 4 Track & Field Championships on Saturday at Westfield State University. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

By CONNOR PIGNATELLO

Staff Writer

Published: 05-30-2024 5:29 PM

WESTFIELD — Logan Alfandari sat by the shot put circle, crossed his legs and leaned his back on the fence. It was the middle of the shot put final at the MIAA Division 4 Outdoor Track & Field Championships last Saturday, and Amherst’s mammoth thrower was taking a meditation break.

Upon first look, the calm of meditation and the violence of the shot put throw seem incongruous. But Alfandari knows from experience that they have more in common than it seems. 

It was only this past February when Alfandari came home from the indoor track state meet frustrated and stressed out. He knew he needed to take a step back and reevaluate his approach. All outdoor season, he’s followed a different set of rules for himself, and on Saturday, it paid off with his first-ever shot put state title.

So, what was he thinking while sitting cross-legged at the fence?

“You know how you’re supposed to approach this,” Alfandari explained. “Just take a step back before getting into your head. Enjoy the moment, be happy, be happy for others, and it worked.”

Alfandari was the runner-up in the shot put at last spring’s outdoor championships. He was seeded second at indoor states this year, but finished third and was disappointed with his performance the entire indoor season. He spent his weeks thinking about the meet he’d participate in on Saturday, and when the Saturdays came, he wasn’t progressing on his throws. He threw 51 feet over and over again.

So when the winter season moved to the spring season, he reorganized his priorities.

“I stepped back,” Alfandari said. “(I) slowed down, rethought a couple things, rethought how I approach practice, and slowly, distances started going up.”

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On Saturday, he threw 55 feet, 8½ inches, a new PR and more than 6 feet ahead of the next closest finisher. To put that in perspective, the distance from Alfandari to second was as far as the distance from second to 12th.

As the outdoor season has progressed, Alfandari has learned ways to mitigate stress — that mini-meditation session being just one — so he doesn’t “lose meets before they even start.” 

And after years of peaking in early May at the big invitationals instead of late May in the postseason, Alfandari finally feels like he’s peaking at the right time. Instead of going into meets desperate to equal his marks from earlier in the year, he’s been going into them looking to improve on his throws.

“I’ve got a whole life that I can enjoy,” Alfandari said. “If I’m spending my entire time stressing about a meet that’s happening that Saturday, my entire life is going to be meets, and then that’s what I base my identity off of, and it doesn’t feel good. Now, I can bounce back from a loss, take a step back. I’m not mad at it, I just know what I need to do. It feels a lot better.”

Luetjen takes back 400M crown

After an injury robbed her of postseason competition last year, Amherst’s Moriah Luetjen returned to the track and won the 400 meters again on Saturday, two years after winning it as a freshman.

Saturday’s result also served as redemption for Thursday’s 200. In that race, Luetjen set a new PR (24.80 seconds) and ran the fourth-fastest time in Massachusetts this year. The only problem was, Pembroke senior Sarah Claflin posted a time of 24.39 — the second-fastest time in the state this year — to win the title.

In Saturday’s 400, Apponequet Regional’s Morgan Hayward was breathing down her neck the whole race, and ran the third-fastest time in the state this year. But Luetjen one-upped her, running the second-fastest time in the state with a PR of 55.51 seconds. Luetjen’s time is the fastest among all Massachusetts public school runners.

“I do not think I would have run what I did if [Hayward] wasn’t there,” Luetjen said.

Luetjen started strong and shed every runner but Hayward over the second 200. Gradually, her long strides carried her past Hayward, and she held her off by 0.29 seconds down the home stretch.

Other Amherst finishers

Three ‘Canes relays earned podium spots. The 4x100-meter relay of Ololara Baptiste, Kora Brissett, Ruby Austin and Ella Austin took home silver (50.56) and the girls 4x400 relay won bronze with Luetjen as the anchor (4:07.33). 

The boys 4x800 relay of Calvin Miller, Nico Lisle, Miguel Pinero-Jacome and David Pinero-Jacome earned silver. They ran in a close-second to Wakefield Memorial for nearly the entire race, and although they didn’t win, their primary goal was to get in the No. 1 heat for next week’s Meet of Champions, which they believe they accomplished.

Angel Hernandez-Castro won the wheelchair shot put (10-4.50).

In the girls 100, Kora Brissett set a new PR with a fifth-place finish (12.61). The Amherst girls team finished with 43 points to place sixth overall.