Meeting Measurements: Throwers dominate, earning reputation as the program's strongest event
Historically, one group of athletes have provided the Central Michigan Track and Field program with consistently dominant performances: The throwers.
In the past four years, CMU has had at least two throwers finish in the top five at the Mid-American Conference Championships. In the 2015 outdoor season, eight athletes — four men and four women — were ranked in the top five in the MAC. All but one of those athletes returned this season.
Through four meets, seven of the 21 athletes have already met the MAC qualifying standards are throwers.
“We are probably looking for 40-46 points out of that group (in the MAC Championship),” said Head Coach Mark Guthrie. “I think we are a team where 100 total points would be a pretty good meet for us at the conference meet. It’s all going to start with the throws.”
In 2015, the throwers scored 37 of the men's 83.5 points in the MAC Championship meet, where the men placed fifth out of six.
The group is led by seniors Cole Walderzak and Kylee Dobbelaere, both school-record holders in the hammer throw. Walderzak and Dobbelaere set records during last year’s outdoor season. Walderzak advanced to the national meet while Dobbelaere made it to the regional meet in the hammer throw last year.
“I think the throws culture here is very strong,” Walderzak said. “That was one of the things that attracted me (to CMU). We are always training for bigger things than just a conference meet, or week-to-week competition. We always keep our eyes on the prize at the end of the season.”
Walderzak and Dobbelaere lead a strong young group of throwers, including redshirt freshman Kevin Weiler, who won Field Athlete of the Year at the Indoor MAC Championships in February.
This group set a school and conference record in 2016 for most throwing points scored in the Indoor MAC Championship. Overall, the men’s team placed fifth and the women’s team placed seventh.
“There’s high expectations for us,” Weiler said. “Even if we throw well at a meet, we still have to come back in the next week and work hard. There’s always somebody working harder than you. School records are set pretty high, so those are nice goals to try and achieve.”
Those expectations, along with intense workouts that accompany being a thrower at CMU, have enabled this group to continue excel.
“We throw heavy things, so we have to lift a lot of weight," Dobbelaere said. "But we also have to be fit because throwing is a very athletic event, so we do sprints, jumps, all of that stuff.”
The throwers practice the actual throwing, run sprints, do box jumps and medicine ball workouts at the Indoor Athletic Complex in the morning. They come back and lift in the weight room later in the day.
“I try to do my best to keep (younger throwers) aware that it’s not about how good you are now when you come in, it’s about how you progress over the years,” Walderzak said. “I try to keep them focused and in the mindset of ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day.’ Each day you have to come in and put in work and try to get better.”
With Walderzak and other key contributors graduating at the end of the season, Guthrie said he knows they have to be training the future leaders this year.
“You don’t just walk in and replace an athlete like (Walderzak),” Guthrie said. “Just like the Denver (Broncos) are looking for a quarterback after losing a great one, we are going to lose Cole and we are going to be looking for the next one.”
Personal expectations are high, as Walderzak, Dobbelaere and Weiler are looking to qualify for the NCAA National Championships at the end of the season.
“We are all capable of making it to the first round of the regionals and we’d like to add more to the national meet,” Dobbelaere said.
Walderzak is the only CMU athlete in position to compete at the national meet. He is ranked ninth in discus and 24th in the hammer throw after competing in three meets this season.
The top 48 athletes in each event across the nation compete in the NCAA Championship meet, which are June 8-11 in Eugene, Oregon.
“I want as many of my teammates to score a lot of points and go and compete at regionals (as possible),” Walderzak said. “Hopefully (many of our throwers) make it to nationals to get greater depth at the national level with CMU track and field.”
Walderzak and Dobbelaere's connection with sports will not end after graduation. Walderzak is majoring in exercise science with plans to be a strength and conditioning coach, and Dobbelaere is studying sports management.
Raised in a family of coaches and athletes, Walderzak said he is comfortable with the training and athletic atmosphere.
“I like working with people and helping them achieve their goals in athletics. That is sort of where I mesh the best,” Walderzak said. “I like to push myself in the weight room. I like to push (the other throwers) in the weight room. Watching them grow and develop just motivates me more.”
Dobbelaere said she struggled transitioning from being a high school athlete to life as a collegiate athlete, which pushed her in the direction of sports management.
“My freshman year, it was a hard adjustment because I was just so overwhelmed. (Athletics) take so much of your time and it’s such a big jump from high school,” Dobbelaere said. “I really like working with student-athletes who are struggling trying to balance school and sports. I’ve been there so I can help them.”