Rao repeats as N.E. weight champ

Rao repeats as N.E. weight champ

Ponaganset High senior Gianna Rao repeated as the New England champion in the 20-pound weight throw last week at the Providence Career & Technical Academy field house. Rao’s throw of 59 feet, 9 1/2 inches topped the runner-up finisher by more than six feet. (Breeze photo by Eric Benevides)
Ponaganset senior pursues national title at this weekend’s New Balance meet

PROVIDENCE – After placing fourth as a sophomore and second last season, could this be the year Ponaganset High senior Gianna Rao finally wins a national championship in the girls’ weight throw?

The Penn State-bound standout will find out this weekend when she and her family venture to Manhattan for the New Balance Nationals Indoor Track & Field Championships at The Armory, and they will hope that Rao’s third time at this prestigious meet will certainly be the charm.

A four-time All-American, thanks to her top-six finishes in each of the last two years in the indoor weight and outdoor hammer, Rao warmed up for Sunday’s meet by repeating as the New England champion last Wednesday, Feb. 28, at the Providence Career & Technical Academy field house, and four days later, returning to the PCTA facility to easily capture the Weight-a-rama competition.

Rao captured the New England title with a throw of 59 feet, 9½ inches that topped the runner-up finisher, Classical’s Cheyenne Figueroa (53-9), by more than six feet. Rao didn’t enjoy her best meet, as she drew fouls on two of her attempts, but her other three throws (54-4½, 56-2, and 55-5½) would have still won the championship.

“I felt good,” she said afterwards. “I just couldn’t get my rhythm right. I had a few good throws where everything was right there, but my orbit was just wrong, and that’s why I was fouling on my warmups. It’s just timing; I can let it go from 54 (feet) to 63, but I just have to get it in the right spot.”

As for repeating as a New England champion?

“I’m happy, but my focus is still nationals,” added Rao, who 11 days earlier, repeated as the state champion with a throw of 58-5¼. “Hopefully, I can get everything in the right place by then, but again, it’s just a matter of timing. I feel like seconds could throw everything off.”

Rao, who currently owns the country’s best throw this season at 63-2, which she unleashed earlier last month at the Class B championship meet, delivered her second-best throw of the season at the Weight-a-rama event. Her winning throw of 61-4½ broke the 10-year-old meet record set by former Classical All-Stater Victoria Flowers (59-4), and it overshadowed the runner-up throw of 52-8¾ turned in by Figueroa.

Rao is currently the only high school athlete to deliver a throw over 60-6 this winter, and her competition at Sunday’s meet will come from Shelby Moran of Sherwood, Ore., whose best throw is 60-6, and Javon Joyner of Norcross, Ga., who delivered a throw of 60-5¼.

The New England Weight Championships, which featured 78 throwers from all six N.E. states, with close to 80 percent of them hailing from this state, also saw Smithfield sophomore Kendra Ezeama place 14th with a throw of 44-4, and Sentinel junior Anna Orticerio (15th, 44-1½), Ponaganset senior Megan Cook (17th, 42-10¾), and Rao’s sister, Chieftain freshman Aria Rao (20th, 41-2½) also place in the top 20.

At the Weight-a-rama, Cook placed 10th (44-4½), Aria Rao finished 13th (41-1½), and Ezeama was 18th (36-8¾).