May 27, 2014
By Kelly McHugh
K-State track and field takes off today for Fayetteville, Arkansas, where 27 of its athletes are set to compete in the 2014 NCAA West Regional Preliminaries beginning May 29.
Prior to the event, K-State Sports Extra is taking a deeper look at two Wildcat throwers as they prepare for the upcoming competition.
For his third straight year, senior thrower Ryan Hershberger will represent K-State with high hopes of making it to collegiate track and field's highest platform - the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
This week's preliminaries will provide a final opportunity for athletes to move into the national top-12 and earn a trip to Eugene, and after an exciting senior campaign where he placed third in the Big 12 Championships, Hershberger is ready to finish off his career with a bang.
On Saturday, May 17, Hershberger closed out his final conference competition with an impressive mark of 18.74m/61-05.75 in the shot put. His throw fell just under three meters short of Texas Tech's Kyle Weldon, who placed second at the Big 12 Championships, and has added even more motivation going into the West Preliminaries this weekend.
"I was a little disappointed that I didn't get second," said Hershberger at R.V. Christian Track just before he began practice. "He was just a couple meters ahead of me, but at the same time fourth place was just a couple of inches behind me, so you can't be too disappointed, but you can't be satisfied just yet. You always have to be working to go further. It gives me extra motivation seeing people right there in front of you, it makes you want to compete even harder."
Though his time competing with K-State is winding down, Hershberger has a bright future ahead. Graduating with a degree in computer science earlier this month, he will head to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, to work with ConocoPhillips once he is done competing.
"I think academic success for us is just as important as any athletic success," Hershberger said. "It has definitely helped lead to a career for me, and it was satisfying to be able to see how everything lined up with that."
Though Hershberger finished 34th at last year's NCAA West Preliminaries and 30th the year before, he is ranked at No. 13 going into this week's competition and has high hopes of closing his career on a higher note than ever before.
However, despite the outcome, Hershberger will reflect back on his Wildcat career with nothing but fondness.
"I haven't been trying to think too much about it," said Hershberger. He paused and looked around the track he's grown to call home before continuing, "The last day, when I'm done competing it's going to be, I don't know, really emotional. I've been happy to compete here, it's been kind of my life for the past five years and it's brought nothing but good things."
While a chapter is coming closer and closer to an end for Hershberger, on the opposite end of the spectrum, sophomore shot put thrower Dani Winters' story is just beginning.
Last year as a redshirt freshman, Winters competed in her first NCAA Preliminaries. Though she traveled back to Manhattan with a 42nd place finish after her first taste of the NCAA Preliminary competition, experiencing competition on that high of a level so early in her career has given her added confidence going into this week's meet.
"I was very, very intimidated last year," began Winters. "I didn't really know what to expect and I let that take control of me to the point where I didn't really know what to expect of myself. I wasn't sure if I was going to throw far. I was just trying to get my feet wet, but this year I am definitely ready. I have grown. I know how far I can throw and what I can do; I just have to go in there and let it happen."
Last weekend at the Big 12 Championships, Winters finished in fifth place with a personal record throw of 15.93m/52-03.25. While earning the PR is something she is proud of, she knows she has what it takes to throw even further.
"I've had really, really good practices where I've even thrown further than that," she explained reflecting back on her Big 12 Championship performance. "Yeah, I PR'd, but I know there is more. So I'm really excited to get back out there and throw again. That's why I'm excited for preliminaries, because I've seen the marks that I knew I'm capable of. I'm ready to try to put some of those out there."
During the past three years, Hershberger and Winters have practiced and competed side by side. In cold weather or hot, rainy days or sun-soaked afternoons, on their good day and their worst days, the two have been there to pick each other up.
"We've been together for a while and we both have our ups and downs," said Hershberger. "Sometimes we have to calm each other down if one of us is having a bad day or if we're getting frustrated. She's definitely been a good person to train with."
Both have high hopes of making it into the top 12 of the NCAA so they can move forward and represent K-State against the nation's toughest competition. It won't be easy, but regardless of the outcome, they'll be there together cheering each other on.
"When I have a bad day or when I'm getting frustrated and it's harder for me to see the big picture and understand that I'm going to be okay, and I'm still going to throw far. He always helps bring me back to perspective and I always try to do the same for him," said Winters. "We have a good dynamic. It's going to be really hard to see him go."
K-State's Ryan Hershberger applies chalk to his shot before the men's shot put during the Big 12 Indoor Track and Field Championships at the Lied Recreation Athletic Center in Ames, Iowa on March 1, 2014. (Scott D. Weaver/K-State Athletics)