As another weekend of NCAA competition heats up, here’s a quick look back at last week’s Texas Relays.
Pat Ebel’s Auburn throws squad had a great weekend.
Maddie Malone got the Tigers rolling on Thursday with a win in the women’s hammer. Her best of 68.45m topped Canadian Kaila Butler of the Kamloops Track and Field Club, whose top effort of 67.75m came on her final attempt.
Ebel says that Maddie’s training is going “really well. She competed in the weight at indoor nationals in early March, so we held her out of a couple of outdoor meets earlier this season just so she could get her rhythm back in the hammer. But she’s starting to find her feel.”
Malone opened her outdoor campaign with a toss of 68.79m at the FSU Relays on March 23. She set her PB of 69.66m in April of 2022, a mark that Ebel believes she will soon surpass. “We have been training hard in the weight room,” he explained. ”And we are also working on a couple of technical points, but I can see her going seventy meters soon.”
The women’s hammer comp was contested in a steady rain, which Ebel says did not hinder Maddie’s performance. “She’s thrown in that weather before. And I always tell my throwers, that as long as you are technically sound coming out of the back on your entry, rain shouldn’t bother you at all.”
That will be it for her college eligibility, but she plans to stick around Auburn to train with Ebel while pursuing a pro career, a bold choice considering the current American dominance in the event. Brooke Andersen and Janee’ Kassanavoid are currently ranked first and second in the world, with Annette Echikunwoke eleventh and Alyssa Wilson twentieth–and that list does not include Maggie Ewen (75.04m PB), who has focused on the shot put of late but plans to contest the hammer seriously again starting this season. And don’t forget about DeAnna Price, the 2019 World Champion who demonstrated she is once again in top form by breaking the World Record in the weight in February.
But Ebel looks forward to the challenge. “I’ve got a couple of post-collegiate javelin throwers training here as well,” he explained. “So it will be a nice environment for Maggie. And she’s got a lot left in the tank!”
The men’s hammer comp in Austin was won by Ethan Katzburg, teammate of Kaila Butler on the Kamloops squad. Ethan broke the meet record with a 77.12m bomb, and according to UCLA throws coach Sean Denard, “hasn’t even touched his potential.” Interestingly, Katzburg and the other Canadian hammer throwers are coached by Dylan Armstrong, a World and Olympic medalist in the shot who Denard says was a fine hammer thrower himself in his youth.
Ebel was proud of the performance turned in by his son, Erik, who wound up eleventh in a field loaded with post-collegiates. Besides Katzburg, the men’s hammer comp featured Diego Del Real, the fourth-place finisher at the 2016 Olympics, Erich Sullins (72.10m PB), Jose Padilla (73.36m PB), and Kieran McKeag (71.50m PB).
Erik’s teammates Kyle Brown and Kyle Moison finished twelfth and fifteenth respectively, and the elder Ebel believes all of his guys can get over seventy meters this year, in part because of the way they “push each other in practice.”
What is it like for Pat Ebel to coach his son?
“It’s fun! We get to travel together, and he keeps me on my toes. When he was throwing in high school, I’d usually see him in only one or two meets a month, so we’re making up for some lost time now.”
Soak it all in
A compelling reason to make the trip to meets like the Texas Relays is that it gives college throwers a chance to be around some of the world’s best. The women’s disc, for example, featured Olympic champion Valarie Allman, who won with a meet record of 67.90m.
Ebel’s thrower Maura Huwalt threw 54.24m, which did not get her into the top nine, but Ebel encouraged her to stick around for the entire comp to observe Val. “I told Maura to just sit and watch and notice Val’s habits, her ability to focus and refocus. Learn from her, then use it when it’s your turn.”
Ebel believes Maura’s turn will come soon enough.
She is nearly six feet tall, with “long arms” and a serious competitive streak. “Maura has taken full advantage of her time here at Auburn,” he says. “She’s one of those athletes where I have to tell her, “That’s enough for today. It’s time to go home!’”
Though there were no Olympic champions in the men’s discus, the field was fierce. ASU’s Turner Washington, the 2021 NCAA shot and disc champ won with a best of 64.01m. Behind him were BYU’s Dallin Shurts (second in the 2022 USATF Championships), LSU’s Claudio Romero (last year’s NCAA champ), Northwestern State’s Djimon Gumbs (who threw a PB of 61.21m in Austin), then Sam Welsh of Rice (a 63.26m thrower last year for Harvard), and Coach Denard’s guy Aidan Elbettar, who threw a meter-and-a-half PB of 59.91m to take fifth.
That was a big breakthrough for Aidan, who had struggled in the past against top competition. “Last year,” says Denard, “he caged all three of his attempts throwing against Mykolas Alekna at the conference meet and again at the regionals, so for him to throw well against Turner and Claudio and Dallin is a big deal.”
The difference this time? “He was attacking. Aidan only had one fair throw, but it wasn’t because he was throwing scared. His fouls were good fouls. He was being aggressive.”
The conditions in Austin were championship level as well, according to Denard. “They can move the discus cage,” he explained, “so they were able to face it into an eight-to-twelve mile an hour wind. Plus it was 85 degrees, and there were lots of people there, so the energy level in the stadium was high.”
While in Austin, Denard’s athletes also got the chance to practice a bit with shot put world record holder Ryan Crouser, who was in town to serve as Honorary Referee. That session, Aidan’s breakthrough, and the presence of a chicken-shaped disco ball at a local restaurant made for a memorable weekend.
An auspicious start
The performance of the weekend came in the men’s jav when Auburn freshman Keyshawn Strachan went 84.27m on the second throw of his college career. It was a PB, a school record, a world lead, and the fourth best throw in NCAA history.
“That,” in the words of Pat Ebel, “was unexpected. Based on his training numbers and his practice PR of around 79.80m, I was hoping to see him open around 78-80 meters. Then he fouled his first attempt, which went about 82 meters, so I told him to move his runup back around half a jav length, and…”
Denard was not surprised. “I’ve seen Keyshawn throw before,” he said, “and he’s incredibly talented. To me, he’s the Michael Jordan of javelin throwing. When he hits the point, it goes.”
Ebel says that Keyshawn is “capable of throwing over 80 meters any time he steps on the runway,” and that he benefited from the atmosphere in Austin. “He was excited to throw in front of this crowd and to compete against guys like Curtis Thompson (87.70m PB). And, his mom, grandmother, and coach from the Bahamas all made it in to see him throw, so it was a special moment.”
The next step for Strachan? Consistency.
“His throw after the 84.27m went about 74 meters,” according to Ebel. “He blew through every position and fouled it by about ten feet. So our goal will be to get him regularly in the 80-meter range.”
Keyshawn’s bomb overshadowed a great performance by Chinecherem Nnamdi of Baylor, the bronze medalist at the 2021 World U20 Championships, and a nice 79.29m opener for Thompson. With two more collegiate throwers–LSU’s Tzuriel Pedigo and BYU’s Cameron Bates–over the 75-meter mark, and Virginia’s Ethan Dabbs (the 2022 USATF champion) just under it, expect some fireworks this June when these fellows tee it up again on the same runway.
Like Coach Denard, I’m a lifelong Chicago Bulls fan, so I know who I’m picking.