PINEDALE – Heavy snowflakes fell as Pinedale High School sophomore Katyana Dexter huddled with fellow competitors next to the shot put ring at the State Track Championships in Casper on Friday, May 20.
Meet volunteers used leaf blowers to keep the ring dry. Cold temperatures required additional warm-up time to keep muscles loose.
Dexter did her best to focus on the task at hand, blocking out the crowd and distractions around her.
“I try to imagine what the perfect throw will look like,” she said. “I like to think of it as another day of practice – just another throw.”
Memories lingered from the 3A Regional Meet in Kemmerer the previous week however, when Dexter scratched in all attempts. Remaining positive proved difficult at first.
“I was pretty unmotivated after Regionals when I threw all three scratches,” she said. “That was a really low spot. Coach (Mike) Gregory told me to stick with it, saying, ‘We’ll see it through.’”
Dexter took her coach’s encouragement to heart and drew upon the hard work she put into perfecting her technique with Gregory the week before as she entered the ring.
Dexter circled through her rotation and sent the shot put flying. An official called out the mark – 38 feet, 9 inches.
Dexter beat the runner-up, Powell’s Reagan Thompson, by more than 2 feet to capture her first State Championship and All-State honors.
Strengthened by the victory in the shot put, Dexter shifted focus to the discus finals on Saturday, where another challenge awaited.
During a phenomenal season, Dexter picked up one discus victory after another, frequently pulling ahead of her opponents by several feet.
At the State Championships, though, nothing is a given.
Kendall Dickerson of Lyman began to close in on Dexter late in the season.
“I knew I had to watch (Dickerson),” said Dexter. “She really hit her stride midseason. She’s 6 foot, 2 inches, so she can really throw.”
The battle for the State Championship in discus came down to them. Dickerson hit a mark of 125 feet, 9 inches in her final attempt, briefly taking the lead.
“At that point, it was game on,” said Dexter.
Stepping into the ring, Dexter completed her rotation and launched the discus 125 feet, 11 inches.
Dexter won her second State Championship and All-State honor by 2 inches. She climbed to the top of the podium for a second time and made Pinedale sports history as the first athlete to earn championships in both throwing events.
“It was pretty cool to make it that far,” she said.
A record-breaking season
As a freshman last year, Dexter earned bronze in discus at State, but missed out on the finals in the shot put, placing 10th.
“This year was a huge improvement,” she said. “In shot put, my mark went up by like 6 feet, and discus was something crazy, like almost 20 feet.”
A pivotal turning point in the season was the Thunder Ridge Invitational in Idaho Falls on March 31. Dexter cleared 123 feet, 10 inches in the discus, shattering the Pinedale High School record set by Hannah Mivshek in 2018 by more than 4 feet.
“When I threw that, I realized I might have a really good shot at State this year,” Dexter said. “It was a huge awakening.”
A week later, Dexter launched the discus 139 feet at the Ted Schroeder Meet in Rock Springs, beating her own personal record by a long shot and catapulting her to the top of the leaderboard in Wyoming for all classes in discus at the time.
“It really boosted my confidence, and I was definitely ready to prepare for State,” she said.
In the shot put, Dexter reached her goal of clearing 38 feet at the Mountain Man Invite in Pinedale on April 29. On an attempt that landed out of bounds.
“It looked really far, and they measured it anyways,” Dexter said. “It was my first time hitting a 38. It was nice to know I could throw a 38.”
Strength plays a role in a successful throw, although Dexter said the sport really comes down to technique and speed. Throwers spend countless hours refining the placement of their feet and head, practicing their rotations over and over again to improve accuracy, she added.
In the weeks leading up to State, particularly after Regionals, Dexter and Coach Gregory “really started to crack down on my footwork” and Dexter began to pay more attention to her feet as she spun.
A typical week of practice consists of spending one day focused on shot put, followed by discus, Dexter said. On Wednesdays, athletes hit the weight room. Thursdays are reserved for making final tweaks to technique for both the shot put and discus.
The disc and shot are different projectiles and the rings differ in size. The footwork and rotation for both throws are largely the same, though.
“If I can do shot really well, I can do disc really well,” said Dexter.
Gaining a strong foothold
Dexter launched her throwing career in middle school.
“I can’t run a mile for my life,” she said. “If I was being chased, I probably have a better chance rolling up in a ball than running away. Jumping – I’m not good at that either. Shot and discus were the last options, and I thought it looked pretty cool, so I gave it a try and it worked out.”
Dexter admitted the first year was a struggle. By seventh grade, Dexter knew throwing was the right fit. That year, she broke the Pinedale Middle School record in shot put and came within 7 feet of the discus record.
“In seventh grade, I just really hit my stride for shot and disc,” she said. “It just felt natural.”
Dexter plays multiple sports and is a member of the PHS football and basketball teams. Throwing, particularly discus, remains her favorite.
Dexter finds inspiration to push herself at the local and national levels. During the 2022 spring season, Dexter looked up to Texas Tanner of Sheridan as an example. He came within several inches of hitting 200 feet at a meet in South Dakota.
“Just watching someone throw a disc so far is the coolest thing,” she said.
Dexter also follows Valarie Allman, a 2020 Olympic gold medalist in the discus and record-breaking thrower, and she keeps tabs on Ryan Crouser, a “great shot-put thrower for Team USA.”
While Dexter and her opponents get down to business in the ring, a sense of camaraderie and support exists outside the ring.
“The competitors this year were great,” she said. “People from other towns, other teams, they’ve been cheering for me all season, which was nice.”
Dexter thanked Coach Gregory for working with her over the past two seasons, encouraging her to stick with throwing through the rough weeks and helping perfect her rotation.
Dexter also gave a shoutout to her weight lifting partner and fellow thrower, Austin Green.
“If I don’t think I can do a weight, he says, ‘Just do it,’ and we get there,” Dexter said.
Dexter’s success was not possible without her parents, she said. Dexter is scheduled to compete at an inter-state regional meet in the coming weeks, and her parents will drive 1,300 miles “just to see me throw.”
“I’m super thankful that my parents are so supportive,” she said.