Can Gruszecki again be in right place at right time?
April 15, 2008
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
by Greg Applegate, WWU sports information office
It was a good throw, not quite Monika Gruszecki's best in the javelin, but not far off. That it stood up to make the freshman from Western Washington University a NCAA Division II national champion in 2007 was a surprise.
Gruszecki's mark of 145-8 on her third attempt was the shortest winning effort in the history of the NCAA II outdoor championships. Her personal best of 146-10, accomplished in her collegiate debut, ranked fifth going into nationals, nearly 20 feet behind the top mark of 164-8.
"It was phenomenal what happened at nationals last year," Gruszecki said. "I don't know if it was the field or the weather or climate, but whatever it was people just did not perform up to what was expected of them. That is, everyone but me, which was kind of lucky."
Prior to Gruszecki's victory, the shortest winning throw at nationals was 151-8 in 2001. Five times in the previous eight years, the champion had thrown over 160-0.
"She was in the right place at the right time last year," said Western head coach Pee Wee Halsell. "The top two throwers were injured, and she threw the closest to what she had thrown going in. Sometimes at nationals, you're going to get those opportunities."
Making Gruszecki's win at nationals even more improbable was that just a few weeks before she had injured her ankle playing soccer with her brother.
"I was worried about [my ankle] because you're running sideways on your last few approach steps and if you have a rolled or sprained ankle it makes it really difficult to throw," Gruszecki recalled. "I had a weak ankle; brace and everything."
The injury proved to have little effect on Gruszecki, whose winning toss was 10 inches better than the second-place effort. Thus, the Meadowdale High School graduate became Western's first NCAA individual track champion since the school changed national affiliations in 1999 and just the eighth overall.
Gruszecki is one of three Western national champions in the javelin. Joan Williamson won the NAIA women's title in 1984 and Dave VanderGriend took the NAIA men's crown in 1968.
This year, Gruszecki currently ranks sixth nationally and fourth in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. Her best throw of 144-9 came last week at the WWU Ralph Vernacchia Team Meet.
"She's a champion, she's always going to be a champion, but she knows that she needs to improve," Halsell said. "As far as I'm concerned, she's already better than last season. She's throwing much more consistently."
The three GNAC throwers ahead of her in the national ratings are all from Seattle Pacific University, and the rivalry between them is a friendly one.
"We travel to the same places a lot, so we usually see each other in the airport, things like that," Gruszecki said. "They're more like my buddies. It's good to catch up, say what your pr's are and go over technique, but it's really laid back."
The 5-foot-4 sophomore from Lynnwood has thrown over 140 feet in all three of her meets this season. But she knows that her chances of winning again are much slimmer.
"I think I'd be lucky to win again because people are training harder this spring," Gruszecki said. "They saw what happened last year." But don't count her out. Gruszecki wasn't supposed to win last year, either.
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