Twelve of the top 20 javelin throwers in the Missouri Valley Conference are from Wichita State. Ten of those 12 are freshmen or sophomores. Ten are from Kansas.
It all makes sense, even if throws coach John Hetzendorf isn’t much of a schemer when it comes to recruiting.
For a throws coach, Kansas is fertile place to work. While the National Federation of State High School Associations doesn’t keep track, it estimates around 17 states sponsor the javelin in high school, Kansas one of them. WSU is taking advantage with a roster loaded with underclassmen.
“There was no plan — it was just recruit the best kids you could,” Hetzendorf said. “You get the ones you’re supposed to get, I always think. So you keep plugging away.”
The ones Hetzendorf got are a key part of Wichita State’s plans at the Missouri Valley Conference championships beginning Friday in Carbdondale, Ill. The WSU men are favored, in a vote by coaches, to end Indiana State’s three-year hold on the title. The WSU women are picked second, behind defending champion Indiana State.
Tyson Holmes, a sophomore from Overbrook, leads the men’s javelin with a throw of 216 feet, 5 inches. Sophomore Chase Pote, from Andale, is second at 207-11 with Dylan Reimer, a sophomore from Meade, fourth at 203-6. On the women’s side, Valley Center freshman Meagan Williams ranks second with a best of 146 feet. Freshman Breanne Borman, from Missouri, is third at 144-8. Louisburg’s Jaclyn Abrahamian, a junior, is fourth (131-11).
The youth and talent makes for a collaborative effort during practices. It may take awhile to get everybody’s throws in, but the benefits are many.
“Listening to Dorf coach other people is sometimes almost just as good as him coaching you,” Holmes said. “Sometimes it feels like you’re doing it right. But when you can see other people do it, and you can see him point out what other people are doing, it allows you to see.”
Holmes placed fourth in last season’s MVC outdoor meet with a a throw of 193-11. After a year of college, he is prepared for the physical and mental rigors. In high school, he played defensive end in football, earning honorable mention All-Class 5A honors at Shawnee Heights, and track was a part-time pursuit. Now he throws all year.
“I’ve been able to stay a lot healthier,” he said. “The wear and tear of being a collegiate thrower is different. And you go from being the best in high school and now, all of a sudden, you’re competing with people who are just as good, if not better. That’s a hard adjustment. You have to quit comparing yourself to other people and focus on what you can do for yourself.”
He began to excel in the javelin as a high school junior and decided to devote himself to track and field in college. He chose WSU over Arkansas, in part because of Hetzendorf’s coaching resume and experience with the javelin. Hetzendorf is a two-time NCAA All-American in the event at Kent State and competed twice in the Olympic Trials.
“A good javelin coach, they’re few and far between,” Holmes said. “When I had one sitting right down the road from me, for me to not take advantage of that would be kind of silly.”
Holmes’ experience is helpful and Williams is listening to his advice.
“I get more nervous than I would like to be,” she said. “I have a little bit of anxiety going into it, rather than just staying focused on what I’m actually doing. He reminds me to think of my training and not to really think of competing as a substantial point, but to think of it as just another practice.”
Williams started throwing the javelin as a freshman in high school, prompted by a former Hetzendorf protege. As a junior, she won the Class 5A javelin (143-7) and shot put (42-1). As a senior, she finished second in the javelin with a throw of 132-9 and again won the shot put (42-6 1/4).
Her work with the javelin is still in its early stages. She is accomplishing much of her current success on raw talent and athletic ability. Hetzendorf has seen seen important improvement in her technique in recent weeks and hopes she is making the move from freshman to sophomore.
“I’ve definitely hit my bumps,” she said. “I did throw a ball my whole life and it’s weird to have something else in my hand and figure out a different approach to it.”
Throwing the javelin is nothing like throwing a ball, a transition Hetzendorf is used to guiding athletes through. Throwing a javelin requires an athlete to run into the throw. In baseball and football, athletes often backpedal, stop, reach back and throw.
“You run your body ahead of the arm and shoulder (with the javelin),” he said. “Most everybody grows up playing ball sports, and in those sports you wind up or reach back to throw. She’s starting to learn how to run into the throw.”