Wichita State Shockers

How the WSU men's javelin throwers became ranked No. 1 in the country

The Wichita State men's javelin throwers are ranked No. 1 in the country. From left to right: Taran Taylor, Jeff Ast, Aaron True, Damien Odle, and John Hoplin.
The Wichita State men's javelin throwers are ranked No. 1 in the country. From left to right: Taran Taylor, Jeff Ast, Aaron True, Damien Odle, and John Hoplin. Special to The Eagle

The Wichita State men's javelin throwers are ranked No. 1 in the country and qualified two to the NCAA Championships on June 6 in Eugene, Oregon.

Aaron True (254 feet, 3 inches), Taran Taylor (243-8), John Hoplin (226-0), and Damien Odle (222-8) all ranked top-40 nationally with their season-best marks. True and Odle advanced to the NCAA Championships from this past weekend's qualifying meet in Sacramento, California.

Not only does WSU have a title contender in True, who ranks No. 3 and holds the school record, but it also has the most depth of any team in the country. Most teams feel lucky if their top thrower is past 220 feet; WSU has four who are.

"We've had a lot of great javelin throwers, but there's no way around that this is going to be the best group," WSU track and field coach Steve Rainbolt said. "There have been other guys that belong in the discussion for best ever, but in terms of a group, there's just no way that another group could claim they're better than this group of guys."

There's no fierce competition every day in practice, although they do admit that it can sometimes feel just as difficult as a meet when everyone is throwing well on the same day.

They all came to WSU with great potential, but they also give credit to javelin coach John Hetzendorf for developing them.

"What makes (Hetzendorf) special is that after every throw, he doesn't have to go back and watch film on it," True said. "He's seen millions of throws, so he can tell exactly what you did right and exactly what you did wrong. That helps us improve throw by throw."

Hetzendorf also likes the laid-back demeanor of the group. They're hard workers who share a similar background. True (LeRoy), Odle (Greensburg), and Jeff Ast (Colwich) are all from small Kansas towns, while Taylor is from Arkansas City.

Even though Hoplin is from Grand Forks, a city of more than 57,000 in North Dakota, his personality fits right in with the group.

"We give John a hard time being from North Dakota, but he fits in with those guys," Hetzendorf said. "The winters are different, but I think it's kind of similar people, places in Kansas and North Dakota."

It's in that environment which Taylor said allowed him to make a massive leap from a high school senior to a college freshman, a growth spurt that saw him tack on nearly 50 feet to his personal-best throw. Although he didn't qualify for nationals, Taylor has three more years and already has the second-best throw in WSU history.

"When I get to watch all of the other guys throw well, then I can watch their form and we critique each other and pick things up," Taylor said. "It's very beneficial to improving quickly. It's been pretty cool to come on as a freshman to something that was already really good and be able to help make it better."

While Hoplin and Odle graduate after this season, the trio of True, Taylor, and Ast will look to keep WSU's success in the javelin going.

But for one last time, True and Odle will get a chance to add to this group's success.

"It's a crazy thing to be No. 1 in the nation," Odle said.

"Now we have to go out there and let people know we're the real deal," True said.

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