COLUMBIA -- Bluffton High School sophomore Neil Blanken said it felt a little weird not to have any teammates in the stands when he stepped in for his throws.
But despite being the school's only representative at the state track and field championships, Blanken made his fellow Bobcats proud by winning the discus competition in Class 4-A.
To make it even more special, he captured the title on his final throw, setting a personal record of 174 feet, 8 inches in the process.
"Going into that sixth round, I hit a big PR that I wasn't expecting," Blanken said. " I pulled it out at the right time, and it just feels awesome."
His final throw, which topped his previous best mark by 2 feet, was good enough to edge out Sumter's Devontaye Edwards, whose throw of 171-4 came up short.
It was a remarkable accomplishment for Blanken, who said this season has far exceeded last year's performance. His 2013 personal best was 131 feet.
"I didn't have a season anywhere close to this," Blanken said. "I dedicate all my time to throwing. This is my favorite sport by far. I work so hard in the weight room."
Blanken said he loves discus so much that he will even throw when he is bored. Bluffton coach Alan Dunson, on hand to cheer on his team's lone representative, said he talked to Blanken in the leadup to the meet and told him he had a chance to win the whole thing.
"To come out here and put it down on his last throw against a strong field as a sophomore, you couldn't ask for better representation," Dunson said.
Dunson said Blanken's work ethic is what makes him such an excellent thrower, as well as his passion for the craft. That dedication carries over to the classroom as well.
"I see both perspectives of him, both as a student, as an athlete," Dunson said. "He's done nothing but represent himself in all facets of the sport -- on the track, off the track, in the ring, outside of the ring -- just the right way."
Dunson said he believes Blanken's win, and his bright future over the next two seasons, portends an equally bright future for the school's track and field program as a whole. With some talented young athletes getting in a year or two of experience, the coach thinks the Bobcats will see more people back at the state meet next year.
"They've got something special brewing," Dunson said. "They can just build off that momentum that he just started."
On Saturday, it was up to Blanken to be the standard-bearer, but he did so in the best possible way: As a champion.
Follow reporter Kendall Salter at twitter.com/IPBG_Kendall.