BROOMFIELD — High-level athletic ability, in particular rugby talent, has been a consistent theme throughout Joy Fifita's family lineage.
Her father, LeRoy Hopson Fifita, played professional rugby and his cousin, Matekitonga Moeakiola, was a member of the Unites States national team.
Joy Fifita is a national-caliber rugby player in her own right and plays for the USA All-American Girls High School Team.
Since taking a liking to track and field in middle school, Fifita has been working hard to transfer her natural ability in rugby to her emerging potential in the throwing events for the Broomfield track and field team. Much to the Eagles' excitement, and her own, Fifita is beginning to reap the fruits of her labor and is quickly climbing the ranks of Colorado's top prep throwers.
"I guess it runs in the family," Fifita said of her rugby-laden athletic lineage. "In rugby, one of the things you have to do is scrum. You have to get low and use your hips so I'm hoping I can use some of those skills to help me in shot put and disc."
With a season-best shot put mark of 36 feet, 11.5 inches, which she hit at the Boulder Snow Invitational on March 10, the Eagles junior currently ranks 11th in all of Colorado. She is also top 20 in Class 5A with a discus mark of 106-10 that she also registered at the Boulder Snow Invitational.
Fifita placed 13th in the shot put at last year's state championships and was an inch short of qualifying in the discus. This year, she hopes to hit 40 feet in the shot put and 120 in the discus. In order to reach those goals and possibly win a medal at state, Fifita has been working hard to implement a spin technique in order to increase her distance.
"I've improved a lot from last year and I'm really working on my form," Fifita said. "Last year, we were trying a lot of moves to see what was good for me between my glide and spin and block, and I couldn't really get any of them down. But this year I'm so close to getting the spin down. Once I get the spin down, it'll be my go-to."
Apart from the USA All-American Girls High School Team, Fifita also plays rugby for Denver East High School and the Division-I team for the Glendale Merlins, a Denver-based women's club program. Playing rugby year-round and doing track in Broomfield during the spring while living in Fort Lupton makes just getting to her many overlapping commitments throughout the Denver and northern Colorado area a challenge.
"It's really hard sometimes," Fifita said. "But sometimes before practice, we'll have homework sessions and my coaches are all really supportive and helpful with balancing academics and sports schedules and stuff."
Since rugby is still a club sport at most colleges, track and field may be Fifita's best opportunity to compete in collegiate athletics like many of her relatives before her. Broomfield throws coach Jimmy Zechmann not only sees a potential jump to the next level for Fifita but also the potential for a state title once she hones her technique to match her exceptional abilities in the weight room.
"She's been varsity for us for three years now and in terms of her development as a young thrower, she just relied a lot on her strength," Zechmann said. "We're really trying to get her to transfer that rugby mentality to throwing and to be more aggressive in the ring. A lot of times in the track and field throwing events, kids aren't aggressive in the ring. They may be aggressive in football or volleyball or wrestling, but they don't bring that same aggressiveness to the ring. Joy is starting to turn that on and do a really nice job using her leverage and her hips, so much that I wish she would rub off on the boys a little more."