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North Central’s Keys hopes to repeat in shot put

Thu., May 29, 2014, midnight

North Central thrower Sabrina Keys, the defending state champ, heads to state with the top throw in the shot in all classifications. (Dan Pelle)
North Central thrower Sabrina Keys, the defending state champ, heads to state with the top throw in the shot in all classifications. (Dan Pelle)

At an early-season North Central girls track team practice, Sabrina Keys walked across the track infield carrying a bag from McDonald’s.

She walked past teammates who were stretching before beginning sprint workouts.

For Keys, it was time for a pre-practice meal.

“Such is the life of a thrower,” NC coach Justin King quipped.

Keys began making a name for herself at the State 3A track meet last year when she captured gold in the shot put by throwing a personal-best 42 feet, 6 inches. This came after she finished sixth at regionals the year before after only mustering 28-0.

She’s continued to improve this year.

“I don’t think I’ve seen an elite athlete in any event (improve) like she has,” King said.

Keys heads to state with the top throw in the shot in all classifications (45-7). She ranks fifth in 3A in the discus (135-9), about 7 feet behind the leader.

She’s headed to the University of Montana to throw next year.

Her coaches wanted her to wait and sign later. They thought she could have landed an offer from a Pac-12 school.

“Montana is getting a steal,” King said.

She holds the school records in both throws. She hopes to extend those marks when state begins a three-day run today at Mt. Tahoma High School in Tacoma.

Keys didn’t begin throwing until her sophomore year. She was a catcher in fastpitch as a freshman.

“She would have been a stud if she’d continued playing,” King said. “But she didn’t really like it much.”

She played slowpitch all four years in the fall. Given her strength in the throws, it won’t surprise that she had a penchant for the long ball in softball. A three-sport athlete, she lettered in basketball last winter as a part-time starter.

Keys struggled throwing her first year in track.

“She’s always been a strong girl and she worked a lot harder her junior year and things started clicking,” King said.

She surprised herself by how quickly success came a year ago.

The discus didn’t blossom as fast as the shot.

“I told her that if she wanted to get looked at by colleges, she’d have to throw the discus and throw it well,” King said.

She made a 20-foot improvement this spring.

“Her sophomore year she was immature and didn’t understand the sport,” King said. “From last year to this year has been amazing. She’s going to be missed. She’s grown so much in the sport.”

She wanted to eclipse 45 feet in the shot this year and has done it twice. Now she’d like to reach 46 at state. She doesn’t know what to expect in the discus.

Keys injured her throwing shoulder and missed the final two weeks of the regular season. It doesn’t hurt when she pushes the shot, but the pain is evident when she swings to throw the discus.

She wanted to take it easy at regionals. All she wanted to do was make the state-qualifying standard (119-0). But she didn’t do it during her prelim throws and had to use her three throws in the finals. She hit 125-0.

“I’ve been super inconsistent,” she said. “I’m pretty aware of what I do wrong and what I do right. It’s just a matter of if I can fix it.”

She injured herself in the shot trying to do a rotational throw for the first time.

“It went south and jacked my back out,” she said. “It’s most likely what I’ll do in college and I wanted to see if I could do it in a meet now. It was a mistake.”

King figures Keys can go anywhere from not making finals in the discus to winning.

“If she can pop 145, she can win it,” he said.

Keys gives a lot of credit for her success to Shannon Bontrager, a fitness teacher at NC last year who is now at Salk Middle School.

“She really pushed me in the weight room,” Keys said.

After winning the state title in the shot last year, Keys dedicated herself to more time in the weight room. She did two-a-day workouts in the winter and often would throw at Spokane Falls Community College.

She also gives credit to her mother.

“I’ve been raised in a single-parent home,” she said. “My mom is a nurse and I want to study pre-med and become a pediatrician.”

Keys knows she’s in for a long road in postsecondary education. But she knows what dedication will do and what it looks like.

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