SE: Dani Winters: NCAA Champion

Dani Winters is still getting used to her new title of “NCAA Champion.”

It’s been three exciting days filled with numerous phone calls from family and friends since the Wildcat senior shot put thrower earned her first national title, and the reality is still setting in.

“No, not at all, but I like it!” exclaimed Winters when asked if her new title has completely sunk in yet. “It’s been so exciting, an amazing experience. Even though it’s several days later, I still think that it hasn’t quite hit me. It is still pretty surreal.” 

Winters put on a show during Saturday’s NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championship at Birmingham CrossPlex in Birmingham, Alabama. With a throw of 17.97m/58-11.50, Winters not only won the women’s shot put national title, but she also recorded a new personal best and broke the K-State women’s indoor shot put record. With the win, Winters made K-State track and field history as she became the first ever Wildcat National Champion in the shot put. 

“I set out for every meet with the intention to win, but I knew that it was going to be a fight at this one because every one of those girls is incredible and is very competitive,” said Winters. “So I went in not really knowing what was going to happen. Physically, I was feeling really good. We went into it optimistically because warmups were going very well. Mentally, I worked very hard to put myself in a good place where I was fired up for the meet, but still calm and focused at the same time.”

From start to finish, Winters’ performance at the NCAA Indoor Championship was nothing short of exceptional. Following the first three rounds, Winters led all competitors with a throw of 17.52m/57-05.75. She continued to improve on that mark through the fifth round where she claimed her title. 

“She has worked (hard) and she always competes very well when we are in big meet situations,” said K-State throws coach Greg Watson following the meet. “Today that was good enough for the win. She put in the work for it and was a deserved result.”

Winters has continued to improve in the shot put this season. She first broke the K-State track and field shot put record at the Sevigne Husker Invitational on Feb. 6, with a toss of 17.45m/57-03. Then, later in the season, she broke her career best and the K-State record again with her second-place throw of 17.63/57-10.25 at the Big 12 Championship on Feb. 27. 

“This indoor season has been all about improving my technique and trying to work toward PRs,” explained Winters. “We knew coming off of last outdoor season that we would have a lot of work to do to get back to where we ended, so my focus this season was getting back to that and progressing from there.”

Winters came to K-State in 2012 after graduating from Plainville High School where she was a 2A State Champion discus thrower and the school record holder in both the discus and the shot put. Under the guidance of Plainville head track and field coach Norma Finnesy, a coach Winters calls her “personal hero,” Winters began growing into the athlete she is today. 

Though she’s come a long way from throwing in 2A high school meets, Winters said she wouldn’t be where she’s at today without the support of her hometown.

“My hometown is super small; I think I graduated with 32 total kids,” Winters said with a laugh. “So it’s one of those situations where I was raised by my whole town. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but in Plainville, that’s really the truth. Every event in my college career leading up to this, if I had done anything well, my Facebook would just explode. It’s amazing the support that everyone just pours in. 

“Even when I don’t do well, they pour love on me,” she continued. “It’s just amazing and I really appreciate how supportive they’ve been. When I set out for K-State and I started competing, I told myself I wanted to put myself in a place where I could compete with the best, and I knew at K-State I could do that. It may have seemed like a crazy dream at the time, but looking back, especially now, it’s been such a long and amazing journey and I’m just so thankful for it.”

Moving forward, Winters now has her focus set on her final outdoor track and field season with K-State. The Wildcat track and field team headed straight from the NCAA Indoor Championship to San Antonio, Texas, for a week of training before this weekend’s meet, the UTSA Invitational. 

“One of the most important things for me is to adopt Coach Watson’s big-picture philosophy – to not stress each practice, but to look at each one constructively,” said Winters. “So my goal is to adopt that mentality fully. I want to take each practice from here on out – they’re so limited now since I only have outdoor left – and really grow in it, learn from it, and get as much as I can out of each day.”
 
While her time at K-State may be winding down, there is still much left for Winters to accomplish in her final season as a Wildcat. She has an NCAA title under her belt, but she’s not slowing down any time soon and is excited to see just how far she can go in 2016. 

“It’s good to go into outdoor with (an NCAA Title) under my belt, but I’m also excited to get back into training and really improve on that, tweak it, so that way we can be even better at the end of outdoor season,” closed Winters. “I set out to, obviously, better my marks and get better each meet, but I mostly just want to become the best thrower I can. So I just want to thank everyone, my friends, my family, my fiancé, my teammates and especially Coach Watson, they’ve all been a huge part of this. There’s no way I could be here without them.”

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