Laila Bunnitt, left, and Benedict Citenga of Lewiston High School have the two best shot put distances in Class A this season. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
LEWISTON — Laila Bunnitt’s Class A-leading shot put throw was powered by frustration.
“I remember throwing it, and I was like, ‘Ah,’” Bunnitt said. “That was my mood when I threw it. The judge told me I can’t go behind my ear with it so that messed me up because I have an OCD with it. Then my next throw was a foul and I was mad, so on my last throw I was just going to do it.”
Bunnitt’s throw came during a KVAC meet on Feb. 3. It went 36 feet, 8 inches, nearly 2 feet farther than any throw she had recorded this indoor season for Lewiston High School. Bunnitt’s teammate, Benedict Citenga, is right behind her in the Class A girls shot put standings at 32 feet, 9.25 inches.
Oh, and both throwers are only sophomores.
Bunnitt and Citenga are from different backgrounds. Bunnitt is from Lewiston while Citenga is from Johannesburg, South Africa, and then Birmingham, England, before moving to the United States in eighth grade.
Citenga has been competing in track since the first grade and will be on Lewiston’s 4×200-meter relay race at the KVAC championship, while Bunnitt has always focused on the throws since competing in outdoor track last year and turning down basketball for the first time in favor of indoor track and field.
“I spoke to Leila about it and I said, ‘Listen, this is your first full year, I want it to be a learning experience for you, especially indoor and learning your technique,’” Lewiston coach Paul Soracco said. “Now she’s hooked.
“Now, not just those two, all of them have progressed and getting PRs. Then, all the sudden, the light goes on and they say, ‘I’m good at this.’”
The weight room has been a focus for the two throwers and for their coach. Soracco said that Lewiston hasn’t had a strong throwing team in recent years and wants to fix that with this pair of sophomores.
“The kids are in the weight room every single day, that’s been a huge factor,” Soracco said. “We’ve spent a lot of time on technique. Everyday we are spending at least a half-hour to 45 minutes on technique, and it’s made a world of difference.”
Technique has been crucial for Citenga, but she has found the weight room to be her biggest tool as she focuses on the throwing events more and more.
“I think the weights helped the most for me because I never lifted weights, and then I started and it’s a huge improvement,” Citenga said. “I was expecting to do well, but not hit 30 (feet). My PR was a 28 and I was expecting to stay at a 28 because shot put isn’t my strongest event, but when I hit 30 I was excited and happy.”
Bunnitt has attributed her growth this season to the technique work continuously being taught by her coaches.
“Going through the progressions and the stance, my kickback is a lot harder this year than it was last year,” Bunnitt said. “Last year, it was short but now it’s longer and more powerful.”
Soracco is blown away by her strength, which is a big reason she is leading Class A.
“The weight training has been huge, and they’re strong,” Soracco said. “Leila is strong. The other day I was spotting her and she was doing five reps of 245 pounds squatting. Benedict, same thing, they are very powerful girls.”
During meets, the two sophomores help one another at every turn.
“We kind of watch each other, then critique,” Citenga said. “We get four throws so the first two we watch each other and then we tell each other what we’re doing wrong and how we can get better. … She’s like more of my coach. I look up to her, too, because she throws farther than me. When I see Leila throwing, I throw good, too.”
This teamwork will be crucial in the KVAC and state meets, where the competition gets tougher and tougher. The two throwers don’t lack confidence, however, and are looking forward to improving into outdoor season.
“I went really far this year, but I can do better,” Bunnitt said. “Spring season is going to be fun. I’m trying to throw 38 feet. In the beginning, we were kind of not that good but now we are doing pretty well. We are all getting PRs now and I’m excited for KVACs.”
Citenga, who had no idea she was second in Class A until Thursday, has raised her expectations from where they were to start the season.
“I am expecting to hit a 33 at least,” Citenga said. “I know there are going to be great people, but I am expecting to work better on myself. I want to hit a 33, possibly a 34 by the end of the season.”
For Soracco, the sky is the limit for Bunnitt.
“I think Leila, if she continues like this, she has a shot to really go to a Division I program,” Soracco said. “She has all the tools. She’s intense, she really works on what she’s doing, very attention-to-detail oriented. She has all the tools to become one of the top kids in the state, possibly New England by her senior year.”