In an event where progress is typically measured in inches, Luke Cota's shot putting improvement this season has been measured in larger increments.
"It's a big shock," the Chesterton junior said. "Starting the year, I would've been perfectly happy just to make the sectional. To win the sectional, place third in the regional and go to state, it's a pretty awesome feeling."
A 43-foot shot putter when the indoor season began, Cota threw 54-6 1/2 in the Valparaiso Regional, a spike of more than 11 feet in a span of about three months.
"He wasn't even one of our top guys the first couple years," Chesterton coach TR Harlan said.
That quickly changed.
"The big thing for him is he finally believes he's good at it, which is huge for him," Harlan said. "He's really worked at it. He was big and strong anyway. There was no reason he couldn't be good. At the end of the day, he finally bought in.
"He threw 45 the first meet, and it took off from there. We've seen him get better and better every week as we've gone."
Even so, Harlan admitted that Cota qualifying for state seemed like a long shot a few weeks ago when he threw 52-6 at the Duneland Athletic Conference meet.
"As I realized I was making progress, I started setting my goals higher," Cota said. "I went from being happy throwing 51 to now, oh, I've got to change something. It's great to look back on, how I've gotten better."
Cota has had to clear plenty of obstacles, both mental and physical, along the way.
As a sophomore, he broke his fibula twice during football, the second a displacement fracture.
This season, he took a helmet on the leg in the LaPorte game, sustaining a large hematoma that caused a pinched nerve, which led to numbness on the top of his foot. Surgery was an option, but Cota didn't want to wait out the recovery time. Instead, he just opted to deal with the discomfort.
"It wasn't as much getting better as just ignoring it," he said. "The mental (aspect) is a big part of everything, especially this. Whether you're the best or not, you have to think to yourself that you are."
Over the course of winter lifting for football, the 260-pound Cota increased his bench press to 305, a 40-pound bump.
"He's kind of a late bloomer in terms of his physical development," said Mark Peterson, Cota's football coach and throws coach. "He saw his senior year, the chance to start in football, it put the carrot out there, and he's attacked it with energy. He's been a pleasure to coach."
Cota also changed his throwing motion, ditching the spin for the glide.
"It goes back to the end of last season," he said. "I just knew something wasn't clicking. I tried the switch, and it's doing all right."
While his coaches mainly want to see Cota bank Saturday's state meet as experience for bigger things next year, he is aiming higher.
"I don't know if I'm satisfied with that," he said. "If I improve like I did in the regional and a little extra, maybe I can place top eight. I need at least 56."
With three personal bests in his last four meets, who's to say no?