John Smith loses an argument…and gains an NCAA champion

raven ncaa

Okay, I don’t know if it was a full-blown argument.

But John Smith, throws coach at Southern Illinois University, is a man who makes decisions based on data. So, if you are going to disagree with him, especially on something as important as how to get ready to throw bombs at the NCAA Indoor Championship, well…you’d better present a solid case.

According to Coach Smith, 80% of throwers perform better in big meets if they lift the day before. So when it came time to set up a training schedule for freshman phenom Raven Saunders as she prepared for last Saturday’s competition in Fayettville, he naturally penciled her in  for a lifting session on Friday.

It turns out, however, that during her national-record-setting high school career Raven had become accustomed to lifting two days prior to a big competition and then resting completely the day before. It worked for her then, and she insisted to Smith that, in spite of his data, it would work for her now.

The resulting impasse was finally settled when Smith called Raven’s high school coach, who confirmed that Raven responded well after lifting two days prior to a competition.

Smith caved, and told me later that the recommendations of Raven’s high school coach “likely won her a title.”

It turns out that Saunders needed every bit of whatever it is you get from peaking properly, as LSU’s Tori Bliss (who, by the way, attended the same high school as Coach Smith) blasted a fifth round PR of 18.32m to knock Raven and her third round best of 18.22m into second place on Saturday.

After Tori’s distance was announced, Smith told himself that he was “about to find out what I’ve got here.”

“When someone hits a PR ahead of you, you either die or attack,” he said afterwards.

Apparently preferring the latter, Raven barged into the ring and notched her own PR–an 18.62m bomb that was long enough to withstand Tori’s final round 18.47m.

One other bit of preparation may also have made a big difference for Raven.

In the weeks leading up to the NCAA Championships, Smith was told by a fellow coach that the newly-poured concrete rings in Fayettville were extremely rough.

To acclimate his throwers to a slow surface, he attached a toe board to a hammer insert and placed it on a mondo surface. For two weeks leading up to to the NCAA’s, that is what his throwers practiced on.

It took a while to get used to it, but based on the results (four All-American finishes) Smith’s throwers seemed well prepared on their arrival in Arkansas.



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