On this weekend last year, fifth-year thrower Robyn McFetters was coming off one of her most frustrating performances of her college career. Flash forward one year and she sits at 18th place in the entire country in the hammer throw, and is poised to make a run at qualifying for the NCAA Championships in Oregon.
The Barrington, R.I. native made an impact right away at the University of Maine, breaking the school record in the hammer throw during her freshmen year, including three times in one meet alone and has gone on to break it nine times since. Yet up until this year, the elusive mark of 60 meters had remained just out of her grasp.
At the Penn Relays in Philadelphia last year, McFetters hoped to finally break that barrier. On a national stage with tough competition around her, it seemed like the perfect setting for it to happen, and it did, with a throw of 60.50 meters. But as soon as McFetters saw the mark, she knew something was wrong.
“It just didn’t feel like a good throw, I knew it wasn’t that far,” McFetters said. “It felt more like mid-50 meters.”
At big meets like Penn Relays the throwing events are measured by a triangulation of lasers that read how far the implement travels from where it was thrown. For McFetters’s throw, something interfered with the lasers, reading back an inaccurate mark of 60.50 meters.
McFetters and throwing Coach Gerhard Skall attempted to notify officials right away that the distance might be wrong, but under NCAA rules the thrower themselves can’t ask to challenge the mark, an opposing athlete or coach must propose it. No other athletes or coaches came forward to challenge the mark, so just like that she had broken the 60-meter mark and set a new school record, but not how she wanted to.
Instead, McFetters used this mark as motivation. She didn’t want that record to stand, and she wanted to prove she could break it.
“It was driving me nuts,” McFetters said, “I knew I could [throw over 60 meters] last year, but this year I knew I was going to do it because I had to break it for real.”
Not only did McFetters break it, she skipped over the 60-meter mark completely, throwing 61.09 meters and setting a new school record while also leaping up the NCAA leaderboard.
“It was definitely a big step, I feel a lot more confident now that I’ve hit it once and I know I can actually do it,” McFetters said.
The record is the culmination of five years of hard work McFetters has put in, but she’s not done yet. Her distance of 61.09 meters qualifies for the NCAA Championships most years, and if she can throw that distance again at the NCAA East Regionals in Jacksonville she has a good chance to be on her way to her first ever championship appearance in Oregon.
“[Nationals] feels a lot more achievable this time around,” McFetters said. “It’s good to know I have a shot and that it’s actually realistic.”
Skall sees the improvement McFetters has made this year and thinks this is the year she finally makes the jump to the NCAA Championships.
“Her biggest strength is her passion for what she’s doing,” Skall said. “If she can show up and perform [at the Regionals] in Jacksonville then she’s got a great shot at making Nationals.”
McFetters will head to the Penn Relays on April 27, this time with the weight of breaking 60 meters off her shoulders, where she’ll look to keep her momentum going with another school record.
In Skall’s mind, there’s no doubt that McFetters can do that.
“62-63 meters is definitely within her range,” Skall said. “If she can keep consistently throwing in the 60s then she’ll be set up great for the late-season meets.”