Track & Field Preview: Throwers
Jan. 14, 2014
MILWAUKEE - The great deal of optimism that exists in the Marquette University track and field program heading into 2014 is due in large part to the talented and deep contingent of returning throwers the Golden Eagles have assembled.
Associate head coach Michael Koenning's group is expected to contend for BIG EAST Conference titles during the indoor and outdoor seasons as they build off last year's success. Subtracting the programs which are no longer part of the BIG EAST (not including newcomers Butler, Creighton and Xavier), MU's throwers are the league's top returners in six events combined between the indoor and outdoor championships.
With the conference's loss of so many athletes in those events, Koenning's group will branch out a little more than they have in the past with the opportunity to pick up valuable points as MU searches for team titles.
"The group is trying to be very competitive in their primary events, which has always been a focus, and they are locked in," Koenning said. "Adding other events where they will look to pick up points is fun and we will explore that when we see what opportunities arise. In the old BIG EAST configuration, that might not have happened."
The men's group in particular appears to be the strongest on the squad, especially in the weight and hammer throws, where redshirt junior Bret Hardin and junior William Koeck return with top-five marks in program history.
Hardin is MU's top returner in the weight, where he notched a new personal best at last year's indoor conference meet with a distance of 60 feet, 11.25 inches (18.57 meters).
"Bret can use all the experience he has and he has continued to get steadily stronger throughout his career," Koenning said. "Last year he had an almost perfect indoor season; he improved each meet and showed consistency through the BIG EAST Championships. He knows his abilities and he's going to have an impressive season."
The Acworth, Ga., native ranks third in program history in the hammer throw, but redshirted last outdoor season as Koeck notched MU's new record in the event.
"Bret redshirted outdoors last year when Will did so well in the hammer," Koenning said. "But they are going to be quite the duo and I expect both of them to surpass their bests substantially and the school records."
Koeck topped the Marquette record in the hammer throw by almost two-and-a-half meters and advanced to the West Preliminary Rounds of the NCAA Championships for the first time in his career as a sophomore.
"Will has continued to improve each season that he has been here and last year he had a breakout outdoor season," Koenning said. "That pattern has brought him into indoors this year. He has a drive to continue to get better and he doesn't take days off - he keeps the accelerator down. He has struggled with a little bit of back pain this fall and has worked with the athletic trainers to get through it."
The native of Winneconne, Wis., ranks fifth in MU history in the weight throw and is the BIG EAST's No. 2 returner in the event behind Hardin. Koeck will also look to throw the shot put and discus in his junior campaign.
The Golden Eagles also add a highly talented newcomer to their roster in freshman javelin thrower John Krzyszkowski, a 2013 sliver medalist at the Canadian Junior Nationals and the Canada Summer Games. Krzyszkowski won a bronze medal in August at the Pan Am Junior Championships and enters MU with a personal best 34 feet longer than the current program record (191 feet, 3 inches/58.29 meters).
His mark from last year's Canada Summer Games of 225 feet, 3 1/2 inches (68.67 meters) would have registered him among the NCAA's top 30 throwers and helped him to the BIG EAST crown by almost 10 feet.
"John has the highest expectations for himself to improve and he brings his `A' game every moment of training," Koenning said. "His personal best is good enough to qualify for the NCAA Preliminary Rounds, so even to compete at that level can advance you to the national finals. Last year he was great in big meets so he just wants to keep building on that in his career."
The Mississauga, Ontario native also placed 10th in the Canadian Junior Nationals in the shot put and holds a personal best of 16.73 meters in the high school event.
Marquette's primary shot put specialist in 2014 figures to be redshirt senior Patrick Stuart, who placed ninth at last year's outdoor conference meet and is second among BIG EAST returners from the meet. Stuart comes from a family of All-Americans in the shot put and Koenning believes his continued health could portend big things for his longest-tenured thrower.
"Pat appreciates his family history in the shot put and this is the first time that he has been fully healthy," Koenning said. "Last year he had some leg problems and in the past he has had wrist issues. Being healthy and being able to show his best will hopefully make for a very rewarding senior year. He will look to be in the top three at the conference at both the indoor and outdoor championships."
Freshman Joel McBride of Zion, Ill., also joined the program at the start of the school year and is continuing to work his way in the weight and hammer throws as well as the shot put.
On the women's side, William Koeck's older sister Kathryn Koeck is expected to redshirt both the indoor and outdoor seasons to preserve eligibility as she battles a shoulder injury. Koeck, who would have been the top returning BIG EAST hammer thrower from the 2013 outdoor championships, competed in the event at the NCAA preliminary rounds last season and placed 22nd overall.
Her absence will be felt in both the weight and hammer throws where she ranks seventh and second in program history, respectively.
"It takes away (from our ability to score) because she is able to do a lot of events and has been our top performer in the hammer for a couple of years," Koenning said. "Ultimately it means we have her for another year and she can sharpen up her shot and discus, and probably javelin. She is redshirting because we want to ultimately have her best season in the hammer throw for her senior year."
Junior Samantha Kennedy is MU's top returner who will compete in the weight and hammer throws in 2014. Kennedy was a hammer throw gold medalist at the 2012 Canadian Junior National Championships following her freshman year when she placed fifth at the BIG EAST outdoor meet. Her current personal-best mark of 181 feet (55.18 meters), which was set at that meet, is the No. 5 mark in program history.
"Sam has had a great fall after battling a nagging back injury all last year, so it was just a struggle to get throws in," Koenning said. "This year she has been healthy and is getting stronger in the weight room. All her experience and ability is going to shine through and we are hopeful that the resurgence of Sam will help cover for the absence of Kat."
Kennedy also holds the sixth-best mark at MU in the javelin at 115 feet, 8 inches (35.26 meters), an event in which just two returners from last year's conference meet competed.
Senior team captain Kristen Gaffey and classmate Kirsten Walker will comprise a potent combination in the shot put as the top two returning throwers from both the indoor and outdoor conference championships. Gaffey is the lone returning scorer in both events.
"Kristen has been so reliable and dependable for us and had a great fall of training," Koenning said. "I would expect she and Kirsten will be quite the duo in the shot put like we have on the men's side with Will and Bret in the hammer and weight."
Gaffey sits sixth on Marquette's all-time list in the indoor shot put and is third during the outdoor season. The native of Iowa City also competed in the discus at the 2013 BIG EAST Outdoor Championships and is the top competitor returning in that event.
Marquette's throwers will begin the indoor season on Friday evening at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's John Tierney Triangular against the host Panthers and Illinois-Chicago.
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