It can be a lot to digest for any high school track athlete when coaches start talking about formulating a plan about how chase marks in the state track and field record book that are nearly unattainable for most of the masses.
Expectations or the pursuit of goals like that can potentially bring on unneeded stress a young athlete can put on themselves.
But that’s the path Gig Harbor High track coaches are heading down with junior standout shot-putter Hadassah Ward.
“I’m not afraid to talk about the what-ifs with her,” said Tides throw coach Ben Keith of the conversations he’s had with Ward about the real possibility of reaching some hallowed shot put state marks. “She’s a kid that can handle it, and she has proven it.”
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Ward’s performance early on in her prep career proved she was on a fast track to greatness. As a freshman at the Class 4A state meet, Ward tied Tahoma’s Ginny Mehl with a throw of 42 feet, 5 1/2 inches. But Mehl had the better second throw, which was the tiebreaker, and was awarded the 4A state title. Ward had to settle for second place.
Despite bouncing back her sophomore year by defeating Mehl with a throw of 44-2 in the 4A finals to win the title, Ward still thinks about coming up short her freshman season.
“I was hoping to get first place all four years of my high school career,” she said. “That’s more why I was upset.”
But with the small hiccup now behind her, Ward seems poised for great things. Her throw of 43-1, set last week in a dual meet with Peninsula, is currently third best in the state, according to athletic.net. The junior already owns the school record, 44-2, which she set last year at the state meet.
“She is not done by any means,” said Keith of Ward’s ability to continue to improve.
Ward comes from good genes. The second youngest of seven children, one of Ward’s two brothers, Mattias, a 6-foot-7 former Tides basketball player, led the Montana Grizzlies in scoring while averaging 14 points per game during his senior NCAA season. Her older sister, Nephatali, is tied for the second-best high jump mark in school history — 5-6, set in 2013 — and has a long jump mark in the school’s top 10. Nephatali now runs track at Corban University in Salem, Oregon.
So while Ward has obvious God-given athletic gifts, that’s not to say she hasn’t worked hard to get better and improve her mental approach.
“She struggled for a while with focus,” Gig Harbor track coach Kevin Eager said. “She had to learn that you have to bring that focus on your own ... you can’t just do it on talent alone.”
Ward has especially applied that focus in the weight room, Eager said.
She used to drive the coaching staff crazy when it came to proper form when lifting and going through her sets. But Eager began to see an emotional maturity and strict mental focus in Ward during last season. That has carried over to this year.
“It definitely strengthens your arms and your shoulders,” Ward said of lifting. “Lifting is on my own time whenever I can fit it in, (but) I love lifting — it’s definitely a stress reliever.”
In addition to building more strength, Keith has paid special attention to Ward’s form to help work out any small kinks.
“She really studies her event,” said Keith, who threw at Pacific Lutheran University and has worked with Gig Harbor’s throwers since 2005. “It’s a challenge for me because she is at an elite level, and we are really just fine-tuning things.”
The top throw in state history belongs to Lynette Matthews of Shoreline, who set the mark in 1971 at a meet in Garden Grove, California, according to washingtontrack.com. Cascade of Everett’s Whitney Hooks owns the second- and third-longest marks, 49-2 in 2005 and 47-7 in 2004. The current best mark in the state, 45-0, belongs to Montesano’s Jordan Spradlin.
She is a special thrower, and she can accept that.
Ben Keith, Gig Harbor throw coach
The scary thing is Ward, still a junior, is poised to attack those marks. As she continues to meld the mental and physical pieces of throwing the shot put, Keith sees great things for her. Ward is talking with the coaching staff at Oregon State, and offers from other schools will likely start to pour in after this summer.
“She is a special thrower, and she can accept that,” Keith said. “She is going to have an exceptional throwing career in college.”
That’s why talking about the ability to reach 50 feet at a point sometime this season isn’t taboo.
“I’m hoping by the end of the season I can throw 48 or 50 (feet),” Ward said.