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Cal Track and Field: Camryn Rogers' Partnership with Coach Mo Saatara Founded in Trust

The Bears' hammer throw queen set to close her college career, chase World honors.

The trust Camryn Rogers shares with Cal throws coach Mohamad Saatara was forged long before she won the first of her two NCAA championships in the hammer throw.

It was before she broke the collegiate record for the event, then did it again. Before she placed fifth at the Tokyo Olympics last summer while still an undergrad at Cal.

And nearly four years before this weekend’s Pac-12 Track and Field Championships at Oregon’s Hayward Field, where Rogers is favored to become the first Cal athlete in 30 years to win the same event three times at the conference meet.

Rogers was in her first year on campus after arriving from her home in British Columbia and enjoying a terrific freshman season in the spring of 2018. But at the NCAA West Regional meet at Sacramento, she came up one inch shy of qualifying for the collegiate nationals.

“It was pretty devastating,” Saatara recalled. “She was one of the best throwers and it was a shock.”

Saatara refused to let Rogers stew in her disappointment.

“I said, `No, there’s the World Championships. You’ve got to keep going,” Saatara said. “You can’t stop.”

Coach Mo Saatara and Camryn Rogers

Mo Saatara and Camryn Rogers

Rogers already had qualified for the World U-20 Championships in Finland, and Saatara pointed her in that direction.

Still 18 at the time, Rogers felt some trepidation.

“Will you still come? Are you still going to come to Worlds?” Rogers asked him.

“I will be there to support you 100 percent,” he answered.

Of course, this wasn’t a Cal road trip so Saatara had to fund his own travels to Finland. He didn’t hesitate.

But things were just beginning to get complicated. Before leaving the U.S., Rogers suffered a minor ankle injury. Then, while training with her Canadian team in Finland, she strained an oblique muscle in her abdomen.

Saatara received a call with that piece of news just before boarding his own flight to Europe. “On the whole flight, omigod, what are we going to do?” he recalled thinking. There was more time to develop a Plan B as he traveled by train to the town of Tampere, which was hosting the meet.

It turned out by tweaking her technique, Rogers was able to compete. It was no small adjustment, Saatara said, given the big stage. “That showed a lot of maturity,” he said. “If if was any other kid dealing with those adversities, they would have folded. But she came through.”

Rogers won the World U20 title — her first major championship — but she returned home with more than a gold medal. She found the trust that continues to fuel their relationship.

“He came all the way to Finland, 100 percent on his own, and believed in me and supported me so much,” Rogers said. “Just knowing that even on those rough days . . . he is always there as just a beacon of support.”

Rogers chose Cal over scholarship offers from other top schools because it offered the two things she sought.

“Having a world-class education as well as world-class coaching is such a rare and special sort of blend that you just can’t find in a lot of other places,” she said. “I knew this was the place for me.”

Their bond, now five years old, is strong enough that Rogers has decided she will remain at Berkeley after her athletic eligibility ends this spring and continue to train with Saatara as she moves into the professional phase of her career.

“Trusting your coach is the most important aspect of a relationship you can have with him,” Rogers explained. “Having that relationship with coach Mo and knowing that it’s constantly growing and developing . . . I feel like every day we find things to learn about one another and new things he can use to better coach me.”

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While Rogers is the collegiate leader with the NCAA-record throw of 248 feet, 5 inches (75.73 meters) she made at the Mt. SAC Relays last month, teammate Anna Purchase is third nationally with a best of 231-9 (70.63).

A junior from Nottingham, England, Purchase came to Cal as a transfer from Nebraska in part because she saw how Saatara’s coaching has helped Rogers continue to develop.

Purchase said her own athlete-coach relationship with Saatara has become what she hoped it would be.

“Me and coach are very close,” she said. “There’s nothing that can compare to Mo and Camryn. They’re like father and daughter at this point.”

The hammer throw competition Friday at the Pac-12 meet kicks off the heart of Rogers’ final season with the Bears. The NCAA regional meet is two weeks from now in Fayetteville, Ark., before the NCAA nationals return to Eugene, Oregon, June 8-11.

Then, for the first time ever, the World Championships come to the U.S., set for July 15-24, also at Track Town USA, as locals refer to Eugene. Rogers -- currently fourth on the 2022 world leaders list -- and Cal freshman discus standout Mykolas Alekna already have qualified for the Worlds.

“I am completely pumped and I feel ready to go,” Rogers says in the video above. “I’m so excited with this being my last NCAA outdoor season, and knowing that we’re building up to something big and something really special, it makes me very, very excited for the next couple of months. Even more excited knowing I’ll be doing it representing Cal, then representing Canada — my two homes.”

Rogers said her training suggests a productive summer. “The sky’s the limit,” she said.

The experience in Finland four years ago taught Saatara something Rogers.

“How you deal with stress and how you deal with failure,” he said. “That’s when you get to know someone really well. She’s been quite successful, and it’s not easy to be that successful.”

The Cal record in the women’s hammer throw was 214-0 when Rogers arrived in Berkeley. She has now thrown 34 feet farther.

On the all-time NCAA list, Rogers holds the top four spots and 11 of the top 15. She hasn’t lost to a collegiate rival in more than three years.

Rogers has thrived because of how she responds to the big moments.

“The more pressure the better,” Saatara said. “The more stress there is in the competition she better she performs.”

Even with two NCAA titles in her pocket, competing at the Tokyo Olympics last summer was a different animal. “Lots and lots of nerves,” Rogers said.

But in a field that included five of the top seven throwers in history — including world-record holder Anita Wlodarczyk of Poland — Rogers held the lead early and wound up taking fifth place.

“The way that coach Mo and I train is we train to prepare for big times like that,” Rogers said. “So when we’re at these meets, even though the nerves are there I can use them to fuel myself as opposed to having them hold me back.”

The big stage awaits.

Cover photo of Camryn Rogers by Marcus Edwards, KLC fotos 

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo