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Tanczos and Shoaf breaking records, eyeing more

| Friday, February 4, 2022

Even casual followers of the Notre Dame Track and Field program may have noticed two names appearing near or at the top of their event results with consistency throughout the spring season. 

Rachel Tanczos and Michael Shoaf. 

The pair have different specialties. Tanczos dominates in the weight throw during the indoor season and hammer throw in the outdoor. Shoaf has already broken Notre Dame records in the shot put. Both are continuing their success in the 2022 indoor season. 

Breaking Notre Dame records

Tanczos, a former walk-on, has had a remarkable career, especially given how it started. Competing in her fifth season with the Irish, it’s also just Tanczos’ seventh overall as thrower. She didn’t start competing as a thrower until her junior year in high school. Her spot on the track team came to exist partially due to good timing and a strong senior season. 

“I was coming to Notre Dame months before I actually got a spot on the track team. I’ve always wanted to come to Notre Dame,” Tanczos said. “I was accepted in December, but it wasn’t until a few months later that I started putting up the kind of numbers in the discus that enabled me to reach out and see if there was a spot on the team. That was never really the plan. It just kind of happened.” 

However, Tanczos’ accomplishments don’t need a “for a walk-on” qualifier to describe them. Her career has been nothing short of remarkable, and she’s got bigger aspirations heading down the stretch of her final collegiate season. For two straight seasons, Tanczos has been a national contender for the weight throw national championship. She entered the 2020 event as the top seed, but it was canceled due to the COVID outbreak. In 2021, Tanczos led the event heading into the final round of throws. Louisville’s Makenli Forrest bested her by a mere two centimeters on her final effort, knocking Tanczos down to second place. 

“Two times, I’ve gotten pretty close. It’d be pretty nice to get there this year,” Tanczos said. 

Max Petrosky | The Observer
Graduate student thrower Rachel Tanczos is looking to break Irish records in the weight throw and shot put during this indoor season.

Meanwhile, Shoaf has less collegiate experience, but he’s already etched his name into the Irish record books, and he’s looking for more this spring. Last year, Shoaf broke the Notre Dame shot put record with a launch of 18.91 meters that qualified him for the NCAA Championships.

“Leading into that, I was stuck around the 58-feet range. I had a few big throws in practice, so I knew I could do it. Once I finally did that, I was so excited,” Shoaf recalled. “Once I made it to the national meet, that was more exciting than breaking the school record. It was a unique experience. My dad was there, and we got to go out and celebrate.”

Indeed, it was a breakthrough effort for Shoaf. Even his first throw of the day traveled under 59 feet, which would have left him shy of NCAA Tournament qualification. However, on his second, Shoaf cleared the 62-feet marker, earning him a ninth-place finish in the event. That was enough to earn NCAA qualification and the Notre Dame record. 

This year, Shoaf has more program records on his mind. “I wanted to beat the school indoor record and I’m about two centimeters off that. And then I want to place top 3 at the ACC (Championship) and make it to indoor nationals.”

Shoaf’s season-high in the shot put is 18.54 meters — the Notre Dame indoor record is 18.56, set by Greg Cortina back in 1972. Shoaf’s next chance to set the record will come at home, as the Irish are set to compete in the Meyo Classic this weekend. 

Despite very technically being on different teams (men’s and women’s), Tanczos described the throwers as a “squad” regardless of who they competed for. Tanczos also commented on what she’s seen from Shoaf over his first two seasons.

“He’s one of the more freakish athletes I’ve ever seen,” she said. “The numbers he can put up in the weight room for being one of the smaller throwers out there is unreal. He’s one of my good friends on the team.” 

Crediting coaches, teammates amidst success

This year, the accomplishments and first-place finishes have been rolling in for Tanczos and Shoaf. In the weekly Observer Sports Athlete of the Week started this semester, Shoaf has earned Men’s Athlete of the Week once and received two nominations. Tanczos has been the honorable mention on the women’s side twice, being nominated in all three weeks. That comes with what’s been a strong spring for both competitors. Shoaf was a double-winner in the shot put and weight toss at the Simmons-Harvey and Notre Dame Invitationals. Tanczos dominated the weight throw at both events and claimed second in the shot-put. 

Both are quick to credit teammates and coaches for their success. Amidst other shoutouts, Shoaf commented on his relationship with senior John Stefan.

“He’s a great throwing partner,” Shoaf said. “We’ve both thrown sixty feet, so it’s good to come to practice and have someone pushing you.”

The sophomore also noted the program and culture within the throwing squad built by throws coach Adam Beltran, as well as his relationship with Tanczos.

“The throwers that Coach Beltran recruits and brings here are good people,” he said. “[Rachel] is unbelievable. Her form is amazing and she throws really far. She’s really good with giving me advice and with positive support.” 

Tanczos’ relationship with Beltran is a special one, given that he was largely responsible for giving the former walk-on a shot on the team. 

“As a walk-on, when I got here as a freshman, it was almost in a try-out capacity,” she said. “I can credit my whole collegiate career to him in the sense that he took that chance on me. I only began throwing my junior year of high school, so he had very limited data to make that decision on. With weight and hammer, I didn’t start those until I got to Notre Dame. He’s taught me everything I know about that. All the improvements I’ve made I can attribute to him he sees the potential in me before I see it myself.”

While Tanczos is focused on the indoor season right now, undoubtedly Irish fans have not seen the best of her until they see her compete in the hammer throw again this spring. Last June, Tanczos demolished her personal best with a throw of 66.59 meters to finish 13th at the Olympic Trials. That success bleeds into her success in the weight toss during the indoor season. 

Looking ahead after Lenny Lyles 

Last weekend, the Irish competed in the Lenny Lyles Invitational, and it provided some good experiences for both athletes. For the first time all year, Shoaf saw serious competition in the shot put, and he finished in third place. 

“That meet, I probably got a little too excited. I have to make sure when I go to big meets like that, I have to stay within my power,” Shoaf said. “Stick to my form and make sure I hit a big throw. It gave me good experience throwing against guys that are also throwing 60 feet.”

Shoaf has lofty goals ahead of him, and the Meyo Invitational presents an excellent tune-up opportunity. A bevy of solid Big Ten competition awaits the sophomore, as well as some ACC opponents in Louisville and Miami. 

Meanwhile, Tanczos had season-best performances in both her events. The grad student described her season as ‘challenging’ despite the victories, as her numbers have not challenged her personal bests prior to the season. However, in shot put, Tanczos notched her first win of the spring season with a throw of 15.91 meters, which was not only her second-best throw ever, but a facility record at the Trager Center in Louisville. For Tanczos, it was her best throw since a 16.02-meter effort in the final meet before the pandemic in 2020. 

In the weigh throw, Tanczos delivered a 21.66 meter hurl that was good for second place. While still well off her personal-best of 23.31 meters, it was a season-high effort that showed some nice progression for the Pennsylvania native. 

“I was thrilled with shotput. That was my second-best throw ever — I set my PR at the last meet we had before COVID. It’s cool to be getting back to those numbers,” Tanczos said of her effort at Lenny Lyles. “From a numbers perspective, it’s still not great in weight toss. But it’s really cool to look at my form and be able to throw it that far, when the throw kind of looks that bad. I can see how much more is there is in the tank.”

No doubt, Tanczos is one of, if not the, biggest critic of herself as the results continue to pour in. However, her goals are bigger than performing at regular season meets. Tanczos has three regular season meets left to build towards peak postseason performance, which starts with the penultimate home meet of her indoor career. 

“It’s such a special environment in there. I remember walking into Loftus for our first home meet of the season and feeling surprisingly emotional,” Tanczos said of her fifth and final season with the Irish. “Just how glad I was to still be here, to get one more bonus year.”

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About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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