July 1 is circled in red on Katie Wardsworth’s calendar.
That’s the day when college track and field coaches can begin making contact with prospective recruits, and the Central Valley junior figures to be pretty popular.
“We had our first All-Comers track meet Tuesday and all of the area’s track coaches were there,” Katie’s mother, Liz Wardsworth, said. “They were all telling her she’d hear from them on the first or reminding her to keep her cellphone turned on that day.”
“I’m excited,” Katie Wardsworth said. “I have my list of coaches that I’m most interested in hearing from, yes.”
Wardsworth’s popularity skyrocketed after she won the girls division of the Washington State Hammer Championships May 27 at Centralia. Her personal-best throw of 148 feet, 5 inches, with the 4-kilo hammer came on the final attempt of the competition, passing senior teammate Dakota Kliamovich, who led with a personal best throw of her own: 141-7.
“Dakota and I have been battling back and forth all year,” Wardsworth said. “I would lead one day, she would lead the next. It was fun.
“I was leading going into the finals. I had thrown 141-7 and she equaled my mark. In the hammer, if you are tied with your best throw, they look to see who had the better second-best throw and hers was better than mine, so she was in first place.”
Always one to rise to a challenge, Wardsworth unleashed a wild attempt on her final try.
“Oh, it was ugly,” she said with a laugh. “I was afraid it was going to end up out of bounds and it wouldn’t count, but it stayed in and I made sure I didn’t foul stepping out of the ring.”
Her mark of 148-5 is the best girls mark in the state this season and Wardsworth is only the second Eastern Washington thrower ever to win the competition. The one-two finish by CV is the first time in the event’s 12-year history that two throwers from the same school captured the gold and silver medals in the same competition.
University senior Emily Flynn placed fourth.
On the boys side, CV sophomore Hunter Wardian placed eighth with a personal best throw of the 12-pound boys hammer was 145-9. Sophomore teammate Jackson Wollan was 17th with a throw of 86-9.
The hammer throw is the odd duck of the state’s track and field world. Not an officially sanctioned event, athletes can only practice the throw after their school team’s practice ends. When everyone else heads to the shower, they still have an hour-and-a-half workout ahead.
Competitions are relegated to Sunday mornings. The only high school meet in the area to include the event is the annual Moobery Relays, where Katie Wardsworth is a two-time hammer champion.
The hammer throw is a Wardsworth family passion.
Liz Wardsworth was the first to take up the event and she still enters Masters Division competitions from time to time, when her duties as head girls track and field coach at University High School allow.
Her husband, Alan Wardsworth, is an assistant track coach at Central Valley, working with high jumpers. When his wife began preparing for her National Board Certification and could no longer coach the hammer on the side, Alan took over the event. Together with CV girls throws coach Jennifer Stalwick, they’ve turned the school into a hotbed of hammer throwers.
Over the past few years, no one has done more to help popularize the hammer than Alan Wardsworth.
“Alan’s the one that found a way to make a space at Central Valley for kids to practice,” his wife said. “He keeps the Washington state hammer webpage up to date, keeps the Washington state hammer Top 20s up to date, posts to Bob Gourley’s lists for national recognition and is in charge of the state championships in 2011 and 2013 (to be held at Spokane Falls Community College).”
Daughter Katie was around the hammer growing up, but took it up seriously as a freshman when her sister, Kelsey, was a senior and throwing for her mother at U-Hi.
“I was really into the high jump at that point and, to be honest, I used to think the throws were kind of silly,” Katie said with a laugh. “I think I threw it about 60 feet the first time I tried it. I wasn’t very strong and I had to learn to throw completely on technique at first. As I’ve gotten stronger I’ve been able to throw much farther because my technique is still solid.”
Mom and dad were a bit worried as Katie began to close distances on her big sister.
“Katie is just a great natural athlete, but when she started she was 6-1 and weighed all of about 105 pounds,” her mother said. “We were worried about what would happen in the family when Katie passed Kelsey. We survived. I can say that. We survived.”
Katie Wardsworth’s state championship throw pushed her past the mark the area’s best female hammer thrower posted at the same age.
Lewis and Clark graduate Britney Henry threw 143 as a junior. Henry set the state meet record with a throw of 166 feet and the overall state record at 174-11 – both as a senior.
Henry went on to be an All-American at the University of Oregon, working with hammer coach Lance Deal, the Olympic silver medalist at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. She recently threw 229-9 to place fourth at the Mt. SAC Relays, and is scheduled to compete at Eugene in the U.S. Olympic Trials – where the Wardsworth family will be watching.
“Katie’s goal is to throw 175 next year,” Alan Wardsworth said. “She’s as dedicated and driven as any athlete I’ve seen, and I have no doubt that she will get there. She took a few days off after the state championships and, when she got back out to practice again, she unofficially threw 156 feet.”
“I’m excited about next year,” Katie said. “I’m going to keep working hard at the hammer and get myself ready for my senior year.”