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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Vikings track and field shines at nationals

With the 2015 season coming to a close, Western’s javelin squad is on the rise, along with the entire track and field team.

Slater Hirst and Katie Reichert are just two of the four Western athletes to finish in the top five at the 2015 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships held May 21-23.

Katelyn Steen and Alex Donigian both finished third in the 5000-meter and 100-meter races, respectively.

Hirst was also named Great Northwest Athletic Conference Male Athlete of the Year.

Hirst, now a two-time All-American, hoped to better his fourth place finish from a season ago.

“Last year I placed fourth nationally and got the school record then from there I was like, ‘well let’s see if I can do something better,’” he said. “So about two weeks after that I started dedicating a lot of time into training this year. So that meant not hanging out with friends sometimes and stuff like that.”

From the start of the 2015 season, he had set his eyes on returning to Nationals and leaving a bigger imprint than before. Hirst said the regular season was nothing more than a trial run for the real test ahead. Stating the season “very average,” he’d been preparing to continue to break records at a grander stage.

“From the very beginning I was already preparing myself for nationals. That was the whole plan from the get-go. It wasn’t really a challenge to get to nationals,” he said. “But the first couple meets went by and I wasn’t really improving like I wanted to,” he said.

But with some help from his coach, Ben Stensland, Hirst knew what to adjust and reach new personal records. Once he made it to the national stage, the thrower from Shoreline, Washington, had fully embraced his role as a team-leader and key player in making a name for the Western squad. He already held the school record coming into the competition, but proceeded to break it twice and by a total of 14 feet.

“I was sitting at about fifth place going into my last throw, then about two or three guys ended up passing me on their last throws’” Hirst said. “I was moving down the line, and I looked at my coach and was like ‘I need to throw this further, let’s go.’”

I told myself, ‘this is it, my last collegiate throw ever, this has to be the throw.’ I just remember flying down the runway as fast as I could and just hucking it as hard as I could.”

With the last throw of his NCAA career, Hirst bested all of his own previous records as well as Western’s and threw the javelin 230 feet (230-5). He would finish second in the nation behind Javan Gray of TAMU-Kingsville who threw 233-8.

When asked about Hirst, Head Coach Pee Wee Halsell had high praise for the thrower.

“Making Slater’s throw even more amazing was that his calf had cramped up a bit earlier in the competition,” he said in a press release on May 23.

Katie Reichert, another three time All-American javelin thrower at Western, paved her own path back to the National Championships after finishing second in 2014.

“I had set a goal for myself to qualify for Nationals at the first meet and I was really excited because I did that,” she said.

For Reichert, it was a tale of two completely different approaches with two equally different results. Last year, she said she lacked consistency with each of her throws differed vastly in distance. She did, however, place second overall with a throw of 165-2, one inch behind the winner.

“Last year I went in a lot more nervous. But this year I was way more composed, way more comfortable,” she said.

Reichert said that her throws were much more consistent at the 2015 Nationals but also that the competition had become much more difficult. This was evident as last year’s women’s champion threw 165 while this year the winning mark reached 180, Reichert said. The Division II meet record was also broken three times by two different girls.

She would go on to throw 161-8 on her final attempt, good for fifth best.

Both Hirst and Reichert can agree that the javelin program is gaining respect locally and nationally and the track and field program as a whole is improving.

“The program that we’ve built for javelin right now is really strong. It’s really cool to see all of us improving,” Reichert said.

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