Not a bad NCAA meet for the Southern Illinois throwers.
Josh Freeman, a junior, hit a PR of 20.15m on his final throw to jump from ninth place all the way to fourth.
Another junior, hammer thrower DeAnna Price, surpassed the 70-meter line for the first time. Her winning throw of 71.49m set an NCAA Championship Meet record.
Freshman Raven Saunders nailed a PR on her final throw in the shot put. Her winning toss of 18.35m broke her own US Junior record in the event.
I checked in with SIU throws coach John Smith a few days before the NCAA meet, and he assured me that his crew was ready to throw far.
How did he know?
It’s all in the numbers.
John uses overweight and underweight implements extensively when training his throwers, and he believes that there is a light “indicator ball” in the shot and hammer that, combined with their performance with a heavier implement and in the weight room, allows him to tell how far his athletes are physically ready to throw.
In the men’s shot, the indicator ball is the fifteen-pounder. A week before the NCAA’s, Josh Freeman threw the fifteen-pounder 67 feet in practice. His performance in Eugene: 66’1 ½”.
In the women’s hammer, the indicator ball weighs 3.5 kilos. Prior to her victory in Eugene, Deanna Price threw the 3.5k two-hundred and thirty-four feet. Her 71.49m Championship record toss translates to 234’6”.
The indicator ball for women shot putters is the 8-pounder. Raven put that implement 61 feet in practice, then hit 60’2 ½” in Eugene.
John is the first to admit that there is a difference between being physically ready to throw a certain distance and then getting in the ring and actually throwing it at a big meet. “It’s like Mike Tyson said, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. Under pressure, the first thing that will go is technique. Strength is like a loyal dog. It’s always on your side. But technique is like a cat. Sometimes it will come when you call it, and sometimes it won’t.”
All three SIU throwers had a little trouble getting the cat to settle in their lap.
Freeman, for example, opened with 18.81m (which would not have qualified him for the final), pulled himself into medal contention with his next three efforts (19.30m, 19.42m, 19.46m), then fell back to 19.12m in round five before launching the big one.
“Josh was short-punching the ball, at first,” recalled Smith. “I kept yelling at him to get over the board.”
Price opened with 63.72m, which pretty much assured her a spot in the final, but struggled to relax even as she nailed a 67.33m toss in round 3. According to Smith, Price was “falling back into the ring on the 67.33m throw. I finally got her to laugh between the trials and finals. Then, when she got in there for her last throw with the world off her shoulders knowing she had won, she was able to relax and show what she had been doing in practice all week.”
Saunders, the NCAA Indoor champion who has made 18-meter throws look fairly routine, could manage no better than 17.39m going into the sixth round. Smith: “Raven went back to her high school technique. She had a 16-meter warm-up throw with the 5k, then out of nowhere she started yanking her head.”
And how did he snap her out of it? “Connie told her to keep her damn head stil!”
“Connie,” is, of course, Connie Price Smith the SIU head coach and many time US shot put champion.
Next week, the SIU trio will head back to Eugene for the USA Championships. How will they fare?
According to Coach Smith, the numbers so far are looking pretty good.