April 11, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - As a Marshall senior, Amanda Kennedy surely isn't winging it ... unless you're talking about propelling a javelin.
Kennedy has battled through multiple health setbacks - most recently a wisdom teeth-removal session - and three throw coaches in her four MU seasons. Now, as she points toward next month's Conference USA Championships and NCAA competition that follows, she's chasing her Herd record, too.
"Amanda is really a vital cog for us," veteran Herd track and field Coach Jeff Small said. "Because she doesn't run cross country or compete indoors (no javelin throws indoors), she only has the outdoor season to shine, and she has.
"She's fought through injuries and had three coaches, which is tough for anyone, but she's been really consistent. She comes through in big meets, and that's huge for us."
Kennedy, of Bentleyville, Pa. (located south of Pittsburgh on I-70), set the Herd javelin record - again - last season at the Ohio Duel in Athens, with a throw of 149 feet, 7 inches (45.59 meters). She finished second at the C-USA Championships, at 145-9.
Her 140-11 throw (42.95m) to open the season March 15 at USF ranks second in C-USA this season Then, she's just getting started, as the Herd heads for Bowling Green, Ky., on Saturday and the Hilltopper Relays.
"Honestly, the meets have been kind of tough," said Kennedy, who was an NCAA qualifier as a freshman and junior and has finished fifth, seventh and second in three C-USA Championships. "We're still in the beginning stages and not supposed to be throwing extremely well in early meets.
"But I'm a person who is very impatient. I don't get to compete like the other girls do (indoors), so I essentially train for seven months to throw for like five. In practice, I'm hitting what I left off at last year, which is really big for me, because I'm a horrible practice thrower.
"So, I'm extremely excited for the season and I know my throwers' coach, Matt (Pfleger), is happy.
Pfleger is Kennedy's third throw coach at MU. As a freshman and sophomore, it was Keith McBride, who recruited Kennedy. He moved to Purdue. Then Small brought in former Florida State javelin man Brian Howard as a graduate assistant, and he's moved into high school coaching and teaching.
Enter Pfleger, a three-time Mid-American Conference throwing champion at Kent State, as the new Herd GA and assistant coach. McBride and Pfleger never threw the javelin in college.
"It's tough, "Kennedy said of changing coaches multiple times. "I guess it's been kind of a curse and blessing at the same time for anyone to have that many different coaches. It's complicated, hard to stay motivated because it's really hard to have a coach come in and understand immediately where you are in a sport like javelin, because it's more of a craft than a sport.
"It's something you really have to see at a meet. Matt's first time to actually see me throw was at our first meet (March 15 at USF).
"Keith was a phenomenal coach, and then Coach Small brought Brian in and Brian was a javelin thrower (at Florida State). I've never had a coach that threw javelin before, so all of the fuzzy areas between me and Keith were answered with Brian. Now, Matt's here.
"My performance right now, I'd say I'm 75-80 percent just because season just starting to take off. As far as me and Matt, I'd say mentally we're like 95 percent there. I guess about 5 percent of nervousness is still there for me, but everything is coming together. My goal is to keep growing as the season's goes on."
Kennedy, a two-time WPIAL javelin champ at Bentworth High School, has extended the Herd school mark in the javelin by 15 feet, 10 inches since her arrival on campus. A history major who expects to graduate in December, she sort of recruited herself to Marshall.
"She contacted us," Small said.
Kennedy visited first visited Marshall with a traveling summer volleyball team. The drive to Huntington with her parents from western Pennsylvania could have changed things.
"A cement truck crashed (on I-79) and blocked the road in both directions," Kennedy said. "We're on back roads following some guy we didn't know, and it made about a 4-hour trip into 6 or 6 1/2 and I swore up and down that I'm never coming back to West Virginia again.
"I got here and I liked it, the city, the campus, the atmosphere. It was a little while after `We Are Marshall' and everyone (the volleyball players) were excited to see the (Memorial) Fountain.
"Except I hadn't seen the movie, so I didn't know what the fountain was ... It was the same when I came down and visited. I just liked it."
Since joining the Herd, Kennedy has endured and prospered. She stumbled in a practice field hammer-throw divot late in her freshman season, and ended up with one of her own right shoe spikes in her left big toe. She tore a quad tendon in her right knee in December of her sophomore year.
Her wisdom teeth extraction "two weeks ago turned a one-day process turned into a two-week procedure that I'm still coming back from ... I've had my fair share of ups and downs."
Small said Kennedy is a big-time competitor.
"You can always kind of count on Amanda's points. The bigger the competition, the better she throws," the Herd head coach said.
"Things come together for me at track meets, so we drill, drill, drill," Kennedy said. "I'm terrible in practice. I'm not patient. I'm one of those people, because I only have those few months (to compete) I constantly feel like I'm not training hard enough, regardless of how many practices I train.
"Javelin throwers train a lot like (multi-event competitors), except they train all the way around for multiple events, while I train all the way around for one event. So, it's a whole lot going into one thing ... I'm a very mental athlete ... In October, my mindset already is into spring and I'm already overthinking things that are months and months away."
Kennedy's goal is to reach NCAA competition in her last collegiate season. The first round is May 23-25 in Greensboro, N.C., with nationals June 5-8 in Eugene, Ore. The USATF nationals follow a week later in Des Moines, Iowa. Kennedy reached the USATF nationals as a freshman.
So, is one of her goals to perhaps extend the Herd javelin record to at least 150 feet?
She isn't saying.
"I used to be really set and focused on distances but not anymore," Kennedy said. "With just with my injuries and changing coaches each year ... I do have high expectations for myself.
"It's not that I'm not sure what they are; I am, but I'm not willing to jinx them at this point in my career. I see myself at nationals. I've been to (NCAA) regionals twice. I'm ready to go from where I left off last year."
# # #
Three Marshall athletes are primed to qualify for NCAA competition - Crystal Walker, Vanessa Jules and Jasia Richardson, with all hoping to improve their marks heading toward the first-round competition (no longer called regionals).
To qualify for the first round, athletes must rank in the top 48 in individual events in the East region (home to the Herd) and the top 24 in relays. The top 12 (individual) and top eight (relay) advance from the East and west competitions to the nationals in Oregon.
Heading toward Western Kentucky this weekend, Walker ranks fourth among East competitors - and ninth nationally - with her school-record long jump of 20-7.
Jules' 5-10 school-record high jump stands 16th in the East and 24th in the nation.
Richardson, in the triple jump, stands 29th regionally and 45th nationally with her season-best of 40-7 3/4.
The Herd has one other top-100 national ranking. Walker, Delkira Maybin, Moriah Njoku and Shanice Johnson own a 45.97 clocking in the 4x100 relay. That stands at 88th in Division I and 46th in the East.