The first weekend of June 2008 was a busy one for senior track star Mike Alleman as he managed to squeeze two personal bests, a Group 3 shot put title and a county record around his senior prom Friday night. But that late spring weekend also turned out to be a memorable moment in New Jersey track history, as it will be known as the last time Nick Vena of Morristown tasted defeat in a New Jersey track competition.
Vena, who graduates this week, will move on to college as the most dominant track athlete in New Jersey history, with more than 100 throws above the old state record and seven Meet of Champions titles. But three years ago, Alleman took Vena’s measure. And while the rivalry only lasted one year, it could surface anew next year when Vena competes for the University of Virginia.
Alleman, a rising senior at the University of Connecticut, has carved an impressive college resume on his own, recently scoring his biggest victory to date when he threw 57 8.5 to win the Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America outdoor title. He is closing in on the 60-foot barrier with the 16-pound ball, a milestone he was also trying to eclipse with the 12-pound high school shot put as he began his senior year of high school in 2007. Alleman had dominated the event as a junior and approached his final high school season more worried about his own performances than any competitor, much less a freshman.
“Going into my senior year of high school I was just concerned with getting over the 60ft barrier and try to push far as I could from there,” Alleman said. “I remember hearing about Nick and his middle school accomplishments. I really didn't think about him though until I competed against him for the first time. I just tried to worry about myself and made sure I kept working hard.”
He said he still vividly remembers that tournament from June 2008. “It was a great weekend. I arrived two and half hours late to the prom, but it was worth it,” Alleman recalled, who that afternoon came through with his most impressive performance of an outstanding season when he defeated Vena for the second straight week in the shot put with a personal best of 66-0 ½ that broke the Group 3 and Union County records.
“I knew when I threw it that it was a good throw, but I wasn't expecting 66-0 1/4 at all. The throw felt great the whole way through, it was fast and I got my leg under me, and just got everything into it,” said Alleman, whose previous best was 64-3.
Vena shattered the Group 3 record and every other mark as he broke the previously unchartered territory of 70 feet over 90 times.
“What he has done these last four years has been incredible. To consistently be as good as he is really is a credit to his hard work and his ability to stay healthy,” said Alleman, who was happy to have such tough competition.
“I would definitely say that having Nick was a plus for me. I don't know how far I would have thrown if I didn't have him to compete against almost every weekend,” said Alleman.
One record that eluded Vena was the Union County mark, which Alleman figures to hold for a long time.
“Breaking the county record was a big thing since it had stood such a long time. It was a tremendous honor to hold the Union County record. There have been so many great throwers to come out of Union County and to be up on the list with them is just amazing.” Alleman said, who has had to fight through injuries to achieve his college success.
Alleman herniated a disc in his lower back two weeks prior to the start of
his freshmen year. After an inconsistent indoor season, Alleman received a medical red-shirt for his outdoor season, which allowed him to retain a year of NCAA eligibility, and underwent surgery that summer in New Jersey.
“It was a wise decision,” Alleman said. “The injury hindered my ability to throw and train properly Since then I haven't much problems with it other than the occasional soreness. I spend a lot of time in the training room before and after practice doing a lot of stretching, icing, and strengthening.”
Today, Alleman is 10 pounds lighter than in high school, weighing a chiseled 265 pounds on a 6-foot-1 frame and benching well north of 400 pounds. He has thrown a personal best 58-11.5, and fell a foot short of qualifying for the NCAA finals this year.
UConn has become known as Scotch Plains-Fanwood Track North because former Raider stars Sean Smith and Kyle Rowbotham preceded Alleman to Storrs, Conn. The trio were teammates in 2008 and 2009.
“Having Sean and Kyle was definitely a plus. But, really, I never got to spend too much time with them, since they are in different event groups and our practice schedules are different,” Alleman said.
Like many athletes, it took time for him to adjust to college competition. “The college shot affects everyone differently for me it wasn't so much of the weight difference that was difficult but the actual size of the shot was a little uncomfortable at first,” Alleman said.
He has also achieved success in the discus. “In high school I basically never practiced the discus; I was only concerned with the shot. In college I have become a more balanced thrower. I do two days shot, and two days discus,” said Alleman.
"I am looking forward to renewing the rivalry."