Oxford's Connor Bandel looks to end his prep career on top in the shot and discus
Oxford - Connor Bandel accomplished a feat few do as a freshman. He placed first in two events in a conference meet.
As a lanky, 6-foot-2 freshman, Bandel won the Oakland Activities Association Red Division meet in the shot put and discus, 48 feet in the shot put and 138 feet in the discus back in 2013.
“We knew the potential was there,” Oxford field events coach George Schraut said. “He was very raw back then. He used to throw it like a baseball. I used to tell him that it’s the shot put, not the shot throw. He finally learned how to throw correctly and he’s matured over the years. He’s come a really long ways.
“We finally got him to start lifting weights more seriously after his sophomore year. He took the basketball season off his junior year and he got a lot better. Now, he’s one of the state’s best.”
That’s an understatement. Bandel has been dominant, not losing to a single in-state competitor in the outdoor track and field season in two years.
Although he didn’t qualify for the state finals as a freshman (he placed third in the shot put and fifth in the discus at the regional that season), nevertheless he was impressive in the weight events traditionally dominated by juniors and seniors.
The next season he racked up numerous top-flight finishes and eventually placed fourth in the shot put and 18th in the discus at the Division 1 meet.
“I started to see that I had potential and I needed to listen to my coaches more and start working harder as a sophomore,” Bandel said. “I think I saw a big difference between my sophomore and junior year.”
Bandel is now 6-4 and a muscular 230 pounds, and quite powerful as a senior. He’s also one of the best in Michigan at his craft all-time and is chasing some lofty marks.
Bandel, who is the defending state champion in both throws events, will head to the Division 1 meet June 4 at Hudsonville High hoping to add more notches to his belt.
At the recent Oakland County Championships, he put the shot 67 feet, 2½ inches, which is the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association all-meet and all-time best effort in the event for a Michigan prep athlete. Allendale’s Zach Hill held the previous record of 67 feet, ½ inch set in 2008.
Bandel is hoping to set the all-division state meet records this weekend in both events. Walled Lake Central’s Cullen Prena set the discus mark of 210-1 at the 2013 state finals, which is both the state-meet record and overall MITCA mark.
The Division 1 and all-division state meet record in the shot put was set by Todd Duckett (64, ½ inch) of Kalamazoo Loy Norrix in 1999, a distance that Bandel has bettered several times this season.
“I am going to go after the discus record, too,” said Bandel. “I know I can hit 64 in the shot put. I’ve done that in practice and at several meets this season. My goal is to go over 210 feet in the discus and try to get as close to 70 feet in the shot put before I’m done.”
Earlier this season, Bandel went 204-2 in the discus, becoming just the fourth Michigan athlete to break the 200-foot barrier in the event. Prena went over 200 feet four times as a senior.
Nationally, Bandel is currently ranked in the top five in both events and, while he is behind nearly 10 feet in the shot put, he is within striking distance of contending for national honors in the discus.
After the state finals, Bandel is planning on competing at the Midwest Meet of Champions as well as two or three national meets in June and July. He also hopes to make the Junior Nationals squad this summer.
“I think I have a chance to win nationals in the discus. I don’t think I’ve neared my peak yet,” he said. “If the conditions are just right and I have a really good day, anything is possible. I think I can place in the shot put (nationally), but there are three guys over 70 feet already.”
Bandel is not your typical football lineman-turned-thrower. He is an agile soccer goalkeeper, starting for Oxford’s varsity all four years while earning all-league and all-district honors as a senior. He also played on one league championship and one district title-winning squad on the soccer pitch.
Bandel also played varsity basketball as a sophomore and senior.
He will attend Florida on a track and field scholarship after being heavily recruited by major colleges across the country. Bandel will no longer compete in soccer and basketball in college, concentrating on the sport that has brought him into the national spotlight.
“Athletes like Connor are not a dime a dozen,” noted Oxford head track coach Matt Johnson. “We’ve seen some national-caliber athletes come from Michigan in the past 10, 15 years, but most of them were distance runners. Connor has a chance to do something great in the throws.”
Time is running out on his senior season.
“I want to go out there, whether it’s the state meet or a national meet, and have one great day,” Bandel said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to hit some more marks and set some more records. It’s been a lot of fun the past four years. I don’t think I realized that any of this would be possible as a freshman.
“My biggest thing is I’ve thought that I really want to leave a legacy behind for throwers in the state of Michigan. My goal coming into this year was I wanted to be in the discussion for one of the best throwers ever to come out of Michigan. I think I am right there in the discussion now.”
And he has a chance to be the best before he departs.