Arizona State’s Maggie Ewen finally put together the hammer throw she’s been waiting for all season on her final attempt at the NCAA West track regional.
Keep in mind that Ewen has been the best at the event all season, twice setting the American collegiate record. The junior is the West region and Pac-12 women’s field Athlete of the Year and a favorite Thursday to become ASU’s 11th NCAA Outdoor throw champion since 2007. Yet it wasn’t until May 25 that Ewen could say, “That was the first time I’d really ever done the technical stuff correctly. I just didn’t know how to finish it so I kind of walked out of the ring.”
The foul prevented Ewen from breaking the decade-old NCAA hammer record (239 feet, 3 inches) held by Georgia’s Jenny Dahlgren, a four-time Olympian for Argentina. But her work with first-year throws coach Brian Blutreich, in ways Ewen never imagined so quickly, is making the record more a matter of when than if.
When Blutreich came to ASU from Oklahoma, replacing Dave Dumble, now at Oregon State, Ewen was open to change despite her past successes (fifth hammer, eighth discuss at 2016 NCAA Outdoor; ninth hammer, 12th discus at 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials).
“We expected this year to be a learning year,” Ewen said. “When you’re learning, you don’t throw as far because you’re not used to what you’re doing. But it’s absolutely been amazing.”
Ewen threw 238-6 to open the outdoor season March 17 then improved to 238-10.5 on April 28. She won not only hammer but discus and shot put at the Pac-12 Championships — a Sun Devil throwing first — and in her return to Eugene for nationals could score enough points on her own for ASU to finish in the top 10 as a team.
“She’s about the team, but I’ve told her now it’s about you,” Blutreich said. “She put a lot of pressure on herself to win three events at Pac-12. Now we’re at the show, just relax and be more confident and do what you do. She needs to walk around with a little bit of swagger that says if I execute, I’m going to be tough to beat.”
Not surprisingly, rain is in the forecast. It poured when Ewen was competing in shot put during the Pac-12 meet when she was the only woman to break 56 feet. At the West regional, Ewen threw an outdoor personal record 58-1.75 in the shot. Her discus PR is 197-5. She is a contender for the Bowerman Award, given to college track’s MVP.
“It’s incredibly difficult to change (technique) in one event,” Blutreich said. “To change three events is almost unheard of. That’s what makes her special. She says she’s always behind and wants more reps, but I’m careful for her not to get hurt. We’ll maximize this year then reevaluate and next fall start at a much higher level.”
Ewen’s season, though, doesn’t end at NCAA Championships.She will throw hammer at the U.S. Outdoor Championships, June 22-25 in Sacramento, where a top-three finish would send her to the World Championships, Aug. 4-13 in London. She is ranked 11th in the world for 2017 and third among Americans based on season best so breaking through to qualify for her first major international meet at age 22 is not inconceivable.
Ewen’s father Bruce was an All-America thrower at Illinois State who qualified for the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials. He fully understands what his youngest daughter is accomplishing and that it could carry her to the Olympics as soon as 2020.
“She’s far surpassed anything I ever accomplished,” Bruce said. “She’s done it with a coaching change and her career just getting started. We pinch ourselves every day and can’t believe it.”
Ewen and her sister Alicia also played volleyball like their mom Kristi, who played at Ohio State. She grew up north of Minneapolis in St. Francis, Minn., choosing ASU for college “because of this great program (Dave) Dumble had built. The thing that really impressed me was people like Jason Lewis who he took as walk-ons and turned into national champions and All-Americans (Lewis was 2009 NCAA Indoor weight throw champion). He could take the good guys and make them great and could take the I don’t know what your potential is yet and make them great too.”
Dumble was the right style of coach — supportive and encouraging — when that’s what Ewen needed. Now, she is more secure in her ability and clicking with Blutreich, whom she said is “more blunt and straight forward about the way he puts things. Sometimes you throw and he’ll say that sucked and he’s not wrong. I can handle that now.”
Other ASU NCAA qualifiers are Garrett Starkey (pole vault), Kyle Long (discus) and Keyasia Tibbs (triple jump). Tibbs was 14th last year, earning All-America second team.
ASU NCAA Outdoor throw champions
Jordan Clarke, 2012 (shot put)
Jordan Clarke, 2011 (shot put)
Ryan Whiting, 2010 (shot put)
Ryan Whiting, 2010 (discus)
Ryan Whiting, 2009 (shot put)
Pal Arne Fagernes, 1996 (javelin)
Shane Collins, 1990 (shot put)
Mark Murro, 1969 (javelin)
Frank Covelli, 1963 (javelin)
Chelsea Cassulo, 2013 (hammer throw)
Anna Jelmini, 2013 (discus)
Jessica Pressley, 2008 (shot put)
Sarah Stevens, 2008 (discus)
Jessica Pressley, 2007 (shot put)
Leslie Deniz, 1983 (discus)
Ria Stalman, 1981 (discus)