ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Zack Duncavage is well on his way to becoming the finest discus thrower in Naval Academy track and field history. The Texas native has established numerous records, captured two consecutive Patriot League Championships and become the first academy athlete to earn All-American honors in the event.
Duncavage is also making his second straight appearance at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, being held at fabled Hayward Field at the University of Oregon. With another season of eligibility remaining, the sky’s the limit for this driven and determined midshipman.
“I don’t think Zack has come close to reaching his full potential,” said Chris Campbell, the Navy assistant coach who tutors the throwers. “As long as Zack continues to increase the volume and intensity of his training he is just going to get better and better. He is a very focused athlete, a very competitive individual and very motivated to improve.”
Duncavage isn’t worried about what the future might bring, but rather is concerned with making the most of a second opportunity at the NCAA Championship meet. He qualified for nationals as a sophomore and placed 16th with a throw of 173 feet, 6 inches to earn second team All-American honors.
Now, with that NCAA experience under his belt, the product of Clear Creek High in League City, Texas, wants to take the next step.
“I really want to make first team All-American. I think that’s a legitimate goal and would be a great way to close out this season,” he said. “I believe I can throw over 200 feet. I’ve done it in practice and now’s the time to settle in and get that big throw in competition.”
Duncavage placed sixth with a heave of 184-9 at the NCAA East Regional, held in Greensboro (N.C.) on May 23. He will be seeded 13th at nationals based on his season-best performances. The 24-man field will be split into two flights with each thrower getting three attempts. Nine men will advance to the finals with the top eight securing first team All-American status.
“I’m really pleased that Zack made it back to nationals because that is not an easy task. He got his feet wet at this level last year and is coming back with the intent of making the finals,” Campbell said. “Zack made a lot of progress this season and was much more consistent. I think he has more confidence and a higher expectation to perform.”
Duncavage said he has improved his strength through work with Joe Fondale, the Navy strength and conditioning assistant coach.
“Coach Fondale has an awesome program that has helped all of us get stronger and I’ve definitely seen the benefit in competition,” Duncavage said.
Campbell has spent time refining the technique of Duncavage, who in the past had a tendency to rush when throwing.
“Coach Campbell and I have worked really hard on consistency, doing the same thing every time I step into the circle,” Duncavage said. “If I could pinpoint one element of my throw that needed work it would be my speed coming out of the back of the circle. I needed to do a better job of maintaining a pace that enabled me to be in the right position at the front of the circle.”
Duncavage has also practiced keeping the disc a bit lower and his chest-level high in order to improve the flight path of his throws. Campbell thinks the technical developments have increased the youngster’s explosiveness and power while his mental approach has also improved.
“Zack is a very emotional person who really gets into the competition. In the past, that has sometimes worked against him,” Campbell said. “This year, I think Zack has learned to temper that emotion and intensity. He has channeled the pressure to perform in a more positive way.”
Duncavage won the Army-Navy dual with a meet record toss and placing fourth at the IC4A Outdoor Championships. The highlight of the season came at the Patriot League Championships when Duncavage captured his second straight discus title with a school record throw of 192-8.
“It felt really good and was a real confidence boost to have a great throw like that at such a big meet,” he said. “There’s always an adrenalin rush when you compete at the championship meets. I think I’ve learned to control that adrenalin more and use it to my advantage. Composure is a big factor and I’ve learned how to prepare myself to compete at this level.”
Now Duncavage must go against the big dogs of the event such as top-seeded Julian Wruck of UCLA, who set an NCAA record by unleashing a throw of 223 feet, 7 inches while winning the West Regional. Wruck, the 2011 NCAA discus champion, is 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds. Duncavage (6-foot, 225), on the other hand, will be one of the smallest throwers at nationals.
“Zack isn’t real big but he gets the absolute most out of his body,” Campbell said.