Reigning Champ Tripp Piperi Waits On An NCAA Chance

Tripp Piperi will have to wait a year to defend his collegiate crown, this time not on home turf. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

WHILE THE LAST few months have been tough for pro athletes—and they have—the plight of collegians is in several senses harder. Question marks circumscribe all options for the time being with campus facilities closed, coaches unable to work with their athletes and no meets in spring or summer. Tripp Piperi, the man to beat in the collegiate shot sphere by dint of having won the ’19 NCAA title, is staying patient, biding his time.

After winning at home for the Longhorns as a soph last year with a PR 69-3¼ (21.11) heave, Texas native Piperi, whose frosh season ended in taking World Junior Champs silver and setting an AJR, had high collegiate aspirations for ’20. “I don’t know if I need to say this, but I was definitely going to do my best to win Indoors and Outdoors,” he says. “That was my goal, that’s what I wanted to do. I’m not going to say that that was what I was gonna do because there were a few guys throwing very far, especially at the beginning of the season. I wasn’t leading [the list] by any means.”

After conference, though, Piperi’s Big 12-winning 68-10 (20.98) had him within 2 inches of Michigan senior Andrew Liskowitz’s 68-11¾ (21.02) under-roof collegiate lead and primed for the NCAA Indoor. “It was going to be a really good meet, I was really excited for it,”Piperi says. “I think there was a list of multiple people throwing up in the 20s, like six or eight. So it was going to be a really good meet.

“And the day before they canceled it. Realistically, my goal this year was to make the Olympics. I don’t know how that would have gone ’cause it didn’t happen, but I was really hoping to hit 22m [72-2¼] in the Trials and hopefully get on that team. That was my goal. That’s still gonna be my goal for next year. That’s if collegiately there is a season or not. I don’t know what’s happening there, but yeah. I’m pretty sure Tokyo is pretty set on having the Olympics so I’m going for that, no matter what.”

This would have been a year for Piperi with his 6-1/300 (1.85/136) frame to launch long ones. His transition from the prep 12-pound ball to the 16 went smoothly and he had trained copacetic through the coaching change of a new Longhorn throws assistant’s arrival in Austin.

“When I first got to Texas we had a different coach and I did pretty well,” says Piperi, No. 2 prep shot All-America at The Woodlands, Texas, the two years before that. “My freshman year I ended up getting 4th at outdoor NCAAs and 7th indoors. And that was all good, I did really good that year, I was really happy about it, very motivated to continue with—we got a new coach—Zebulon Sion.

“And he was brilliant. I’d met him before and I was excited for him to come to the program. You know, that whole situation was a little dicey at first. I was nervous because I didn’t know what was gonna happen and I wasn’t gonna leave Texas, but, you know, coming in I’d met him, I knew who he was. He’s a great coach and we kinda got the ball rolling.

“The real transition was just me deciding—I don’t know, I’ve always wanted to win NCAAs. It wasn’t much of a transition but it was a new training program. I was lifting a lot heavier, got a lot stronger. I got bigger and did a lot of form work, changed over a few things and I got really consistent last year.

“I did well at meets with pros before NCs [in the spring of ’19]. I went to Long Beach and I did well with 21.01 [68-11¼] and that really was just a good confidence booster. I got to meet Crouser and some of the other professionals there. Jon Jones was there and I did really well.

“I just kind of got my mindset down and, you know, just want to kick some ass [at the NCAA]. That’s what I did, and it was at home so that made it so much better.”

Exulting at having pocketed the collegiate title, Piperi told the media on hand, “A lot of [the key to success] is just being in the right mindset. I listen to a lot of music and I get really fired up, which is one way to put it. Coming into big meets like this, I’ve just got to trust my form. I’ve been doing it all year, I’ve been practicing nonstop, just working at it, and this is not the meet to really think about it, it’s just ‘Go.’”

Piperi’s title defense, too, would have been at home. Now—well, he mentioned the collegiate question marks above, and the NCAA site, if there is an NCAA meet, will be in Eugene, same venue as the Olympic Trials the next week. Performing in Oregon will be his focus. There are records to consider as well, Payton Otterdahl’s indoor CR, 71-3½ (21.81), for one.

“I’m definitely gonna try to break it. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’m just gonna focus on winning at the NCAA’s, on trying to do my best to win and doing whatever it takes to win.

“I mean if I’m at a meet where there’s really nobody there, one of those smaller early meets, I’ll try to hit a big throw,” he says. “But typically it takes a big throw to win those later season meets anyway so I’m really just trying to go in most of the time and win. I mean that’d be really cool breaking that record. I also want to break our school record, which is [Ryan] Crouser’s 71-3½ [21.73]. That’s something that I’ve thought a lot about as well. So hopefully that can be like a double thing. I’d love to break those records. But at the end of the day what’s most important is winning.”

The outdoor Collegiate Record, John Godina’s 72-2¼ (22.00) from ’95, is right at the barrier Piperi acknowledges as a near must-hit to make the team for Tokyo.

As a college athlete about to return to campus—whatever that may mean in the COVID fall—Piperi knows he will see no competition this summer. Instead he has broken up his days swimming and fishing down in Galveston.

“I really can’t wait to start competing,” he says. “This has been the first time in like 5 or 6 years where I haven’t been competing into the summer… but I’m still lifting really heavy. So it’s essentially like off-season and I’m pretty much getting at it in the weight room and I’m absurdly sore right now.”