Conn's Mensah keeps building on her record-setting freshman season in the shot put

Connecticut College freshman Koko Mensah will finish her freshman season on the women's track team as the program record-holder in the shot put. (Photo courtesy of Connecticut College Athletics)
Connecticut College freshman Koko Mensah will finish her freshman season on the women's track team as the program record-holder in the shot put. (Photo courtesy of Connecticut College Athletics)

New London — Koko Mensah is full of pleasant surprises.

Recruited to play basketball at Connecticut College, Mensah made a surprising choice to join the track and field team instead.

In a stunning debut, Mensah broke the school shot put record in her first indoor meet in December.

Her surprising success continued during outdoor season. The freshman sensation established a school record for shot put and turned in some impressive winning performances.

"This was a pretty good season," Mensah said. "I was pretty in shock. I didn't expect anything coming into track. I didn't expect to do well at all. I just thought it would be something that I would just do."

Coach Ned Bishop never even knew about Mensah's interest in track until receiving a call from her early last summer asking to join the program.

To say the least, Mensah exceeded Bishop's expectations.

"She had thrown reasonably well in high school," Bishop said. "But she has exploded beyond that this year."

Mensah's superb freshman season continued Thursday in the Last Chance Invite at MIT in Cambridge. She broke her own school record with a throw of 44 feet, one-half inch. She is just shy of the qualifying field for next week's NCAA Championship but could still earn a trip if other qualifiers elect not to go.

Given her talent and enormous potential, Mensah will likely reach the NCAA Championships before her career is over.

Her athletic background helped her make a smooth transition to the collegiate ranks. She left her family in Orange, N.J., to attend Choate Rosemary Hall, a private school in Wallingford. She started out playing field hockey, basketball and softball. During her sophomore year, she replaced softball with track.

She wanted to be a sprinter but moved to the field events after pulling a hamstring at her first practice. She enjoyed throwing the discus but took time to warm up to the shot put.

"I wasn't good at all," Mensah said. "I don't know how this happened. I was so bad. I didn't really care for it."

Now Mensah prefers the shot put over discus. She credits her Conn College track coaches, especially assistant Carl Reichard who works with the throwers, for her rapid development.

"There was a learning curve, obviously, learning technique," Mensah said. "Then I met Carl, my coach here, and everything just changed. I was like, 'wow, this is really easy.'"

Mensah certainly made it look easy. In her indoor debut at the Springfield College Invitational on Dec. 3, she had a school record throw of 39 feet, 3.25 inches.

"That was a big surprise for me," Mensah said. "I was like, what?'"

The surprises kept piling up.

Mensah took turns with senior teammate Lauren Kennedy owing the school indoor shot put record. Kennedy, who's played an important role in Mensah's growth, finished the winter season in possession of the mark.

Outdoor season belonged to Mensah, who shook off the nerves that affected her performances at times during indoor season. She's been the program's leading scorer and part of a strong, tight-knit group of throwers.

Mensah captured the New England Small College Athletic Conference Championship shot put title with a throw of 42-9.75 inches. She became just the second Conn College freshman to win an individual title at the New England Division III Championship earlier this month, helping the Camels to their second best finish ever, eighth overall.

At the All-New England Championship, featuring Division I, Division II and Division III programs, Saturday at Williams College, Mensah surpassed her own school record and placed fifth with a throw of 43-6.

"She works really hard at what she's doing," Bishop said. "She's really invested herself in it. ... Koko is really, really strong. Her weight-lifting is really off the charts and the shot put is an event that (strength) is especially valuable."

More surprises could be in store next season and beyond. She's set some lofty goals.

"Before I graduate, I definitely want to win All-New Englands," Mensah said. "I know I have to work hard but I really want it."

Mensah is planning to try out for the basketball team next winter. She's going to major in biology with a goal of becoming a doctor.

"I've always supported people playing other sports," Bishop said. "But I also get excited when the other sport doesn't stay on the table. She knows I'd like to have her the whole time."

g.keefe@theday.com

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