Besides two automatic marks, Vikings have five provisional qualifiers
WWU javelin thrower Bethany Drake rapidly transforms into best in school history
By ANDREW LANG, THE BELLINGHAM HERALD, April 11, 2014
A wide range of emotional reactions comes to mind when an athlete generates a lasting, awe-inspiring moment with a clutch performance.
Sheer joy, an elation-filled yell, maybe tears of happiness, but laughter?
Sure enough, last week when Western Washington University sophomore javelin thrower Bethany Drake broke the school record with a throw of 169 feet, 6 inches, she shared a humorous moment with teammate Katie Reichert.
"My initial reaction was I turned to Katie and started laughing," Drake said in a phone interview. "It turned out to be kind of funny."
The laugh wasn't a result of disbelief, rather Drake had experienced a déjà vu moment from the previous year when she PRed at a meet on her first attempted throw following a short warm-up.
Last weekend's University of Puget Sound Shotwell Track and Field Invitational Meet was running late, and again Drake was forced into a hurried warm-up. But just like last season, she made an incredible throw on her initial try.
"I was talking to a coach and watching the javelin and the rest of the track meet, and I saw it launch, and it was up in the air a long time," WWU track and field coach Pee Wee Halsell said in a phone interview. "I didn't know what the official mark was until after the meet was over, but it was fun watching that javelin fly."
In roughly five seconds, Drake thrust herself into the Vikings' record books. Her throw was a 12-foot-plus PR, and more impressively, it served as the best Division II javelin throw since 2009. It moved her up to No. 4 in Division II history and is the 10th best among all collegiate athletes this season, regardless of division.
Drake was selected United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association NCAA Division II National Female Athlete of the Week for her effort.
Her accomplishment is even more impressive given that five years ago Drake had never picked up a javelin.
She had played softball seven years prior to switching over to track and field after her sister convinced her to join and team politics on the diamond became too much to handle.
Drake, who attended Sandy High School in Sandy, Ore., gravitated to javelin after her friend Makena Schroder, who now throws for Texas Christian University and was a two-time Class 5A Oregon state champ, helped draw her toward the event.
Drake threw 115 feet her first year, 120 the next and PRed at 129 feet her senior year to qualify for the state championships.
A year later, Drake was throwing in Division II's national championships.
"That was a big transition, coming from being second place (to Schroder) and use to being in the shadow," Drake said. "Honestly, being successful and taking that limelight is a huge privilege, and it's also crazy at times."
And Drake, who wasn't recruited, wouldn't be enjoying her college success if she hadn't attempted to join Halsell's team as a walk-on.
She is a prime example of Halsell's "sometimes the best recruiting you do is answering your phone" theory.
"I get those calls quite often," said Halsell of talented prospective athletes looking to extend their high school track and field career. "Things like that happen. ... Sometimes you get a blessing, and she was a big blessing."
Drake's early-career accomplishments fall in line with Western's rich tradition of talented javelin throwers. Monika Gruszecki, Joan Williamson, Bonna Schibret and Laura Kruse are a few of the top names who've enjoyed strong throwing careers at Western.
This year, though, Western may have its most talented duo in program history with the rise of Drake combined with the talents of junior Katie Reichert, who Drake credited for a portion of her success.
"They are two of the best," Halsell said.
Drake was throwing in the mid 130s when she first started at Western and began working with coach Ben Stensland and Reichert. Drake has displayed a tireless work ethic, Halsell said, and she's committed herself to weight training and putting in the hours with Stensland to improve her technique. Her relationship with Reichert also has been invaluable, Drake said.
"We have trained together for the past year and a half, and she's been such a huge support," said the WWU sophomore of Reichert. "We are each other's biggest competition and also give each other support."
Having already thrown the farthest D-II national championship-winning toss since 1999 with her 169-06.00 throw last weekend, Drake seems poised to improve on last year's 13th-place national championships finish.
While this year's big throw seemed much like last year's double-digit PR, there was one major difference between Drake's feeling this time around when it comes to replicating the feat.
What felt like a rare occasion last spring seems less of an anomaly now, Drake said.
"On Saturday, all six of my throws were good," she said. "I feel like after that throw, it's, 'This is where I'm headed,' not a one-time thing."