It’s nearly 100 degrees — before noon. Three of the best track and field throwers in the country are slogging their way through another practice while Arizona State assistant David Dumble’s enthusiasm keeps the heat at bay.
Every shot-put toss from Jessica Pressley, Sarah Stevens and Ryan Whiting comes with a breakdown of what went right, and, on rare occasions, why it went wrong.
Beyond technical pointers, the core has been self-sufficient.
After four years of competition for Pressley, three for Stevens and two for Whiting, the trio has a combined 18 All-American honors, a couple school records and a few national championships.
Pressley and Stevens (shot put, discus and javelin) lead the women’s team in its quest for a fourth consecutive national title (two indoor and one outdoor) beginning today at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. Whiting and the men’s squad will attempt to build on their 2008 indoor championship.
Only once before — LSU indoors in 2003 — had a school won both national championships at the same meet.
Dumble’s seen many a champion come and go, both from his track days at UCLA and in his seven years as throwers coach.
This group has been as good as it gets.
“They have pride in becoming All-Americans on their own. They don’t need any added pressure,” Dumble said. “If we hit on all cylinders …“
Pressley is the defending outdoor national champion in the shot put, and her toss of 61 feet, 7 3/4 inches at the Pac-10 championships was a school record and the nation’s longest of the season.
At age 23, she also has had osteoarthritis in her knees for most of her college career. Without cartilage as a buffer, it never stops hurting to walk, let alone practice and compete.
Doctors wanted her to quit last February, and a knee replacement is in her future.
But with the prospects of a national championship and Olympic tryout in Oregon later this month in the immediate future, her plan is to keep quiet and keep taking ibuprofen.
“When I think I’m pain-free, there’s probably something wrong,” she said.
Whiting, a redshirt sophomore, knows the feeling. He was lifting weights (420 pounds in this case) when a small bone in his heel fractured and his ankle turned.
Ankle taping and an awkward brace during the Pac-10 championships led to a second-place finish in the shot put, which dropped him from No. 1 in the country to No. 3.
The two-time All-American wants to set a new NCAA record (22 meters).
He, too, has an Olympic tryout waiting for him, along with rehab in a desperate attempt to avoid surgery.
Flanked by Kyle Alcorn (steeplechase), Brad Roth (shot put, discus) and Matt Turner (jumps), the men have a chance to repeat last fall’s indoor magic and win their first outdoor title since 1977.
“The girls started it; we’re trying to keep it going,” Whiting said.
Stevens finished third in the shot put and fourth in the hammer throw last spring and won the national title at the 2007 indoor championships.
Four consecutive championships is a lot, but the likes of three-time heptathlon champion Jacquelyn Johnson, Stevens, Pressley and Tai Battle (hammer throw, discus) appear to have the field events smothered.
“I think we can,” Stevens said. “For us, it’s what we do every day, and that’s what can be controlled.”
And yes, win or lose this weekend, she’ll be going to the Olympic trials with at least a half-dozen other Sun Devils.
“To win the titles and go to the Olympics should be fun, not like a job,” Dumble said. “They want to do this and that’s the only reason they’re out here.”