BOWLING GREEN — Brooke Pleger didn’t join the track team at Saline High School to become a thrower.
“I started as a sprinter on the track team because I thought throwers are unathletic — you send people over there who can’t do anything,” she said. “I told my coach I wouldn’t do it.
“Two weeks later the coach said, ‘You are practicing with the throwers,’ and I just did it. And once I went over there, I started to pick it up.”
“Pick it up” is an understatement because Pleger, now a sophomore on the Bowling Green State University track team, has become one of the best hammer throwers in the country.
Pleger will compete in the NCAA Division I track and field championships, starting at 4:30 p.m. today in Eugene, Ore. Pleger is looking to become the first Falcon to score in that meet since 2001.
But Pleger has a chance to do more than just score. She is ranked fifth nationally in her specialty, which means she has a chance to surpass the best finish ever by a BG woman in the national meet, which is sixth.
It has been a long journey for Pleger, the unwilling shot put and discus thrower who was introduced to the hammer in the summer before her senior year.
“After my first day with the hammer, I couldn’t wait to throw it again,” she said. “The complexity of it has drawn me to it.
“I’ve thrown for four years now, and I feel there are still 100 things I could do to fix my technique — there’s so much about it that’s so complex, I love to try and figure it out.”
As a freshman she finished seventh in the Mid-American Conference Championships in the hammer with a throw of 174 feet, 10 inches. There was a coaching change following her freshman season, and she sat out last year while working with new throwing coach Matt Conly.
The changes became evident this season as she posted a season’s best throw of 219-9, a mark only four Division I throwers around the country have matched this season.
“A huge part [of my development] came from changes in my training,” Pleger said. “After my freshman year we had a coaching change, and things flipped 180 degrees. Our lifting regiment was different, our practices are different. ...
“We did a lot of training that was specific to the hammer throw.”
Pleger won the MAC title in the hammer this year with a 216-3 toss, and she was named the league’s most outstanding field athlete.
She qualified for the national meet by winning the East Regional with a throw of 210-1. That throw was a mixed blessing: While it won the meet, it was her worst measured throw this season, and six throwers at the West Regional surpassed it.
“I’m happy that I won, but it wasn’t the way I wanted to win,” Pleger admitted. “When we got there on Wednesday for practice, I had some awesome throws, and I was getting really excited to throw on Friday. ...
“I went out Friday and got into the ring, and I had no feeling for the ball. I’m a technical thrower, and most of my throws come from good technique, especially on my entry. And my entry was way off.”
While Pleger is seeded seventh at the national meet, she has the fifth-best Division I throw this season. She said her event could be won by any number of people.
“This is wide open. Anybody could go out, throw far and win — and that includes me,” Pleger said. “I don’t think it’s impossible to win a national championship.
“A lot of it is going to depend on how well I throw, and how well the field throws. ... I could have a great day and still come in seventh because everybody else has a great day.”
Pleger’s breakout season has caused her to enter this meet with some lofty goals for now and for the future.
“This year, All-American [is my goal],” she said. “Before I graduate, I want to be a national champion. And then post-college I plan to train for the 2016 Olympics; it would be awesome if I could do that.
“And I’m planning on competing in the 2020 Olympics as well. I don’t plan on stopping for a while.”
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481, or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.