May 4, 2011
By Mollie Hanke
One U.S.A. Junior National Champion, one who qualified for NCAA West Regionals as a freshman, a two-time All-American, an athlete who set the school record on her second throw as a Husky, and an aspiring Olympian. Meet Washington's current Fab Five, or the Jav Five, comprised of javelin throwers Jimmy Brookman, Kyle Nielsen, Amanda Peterson, Brooke Pighin, and Joe Zimmerman.
Just a few years back, the Washington javelin group was typical of most around the country: the occasional conference champion (Juan Romero in 2006) or NCAA scorer (Justin St. Clair in 2000), but in size and strength this new UW group has put itself on the map nationally and looks to continue for years to come.The reason behind this spike in success for the unit? "Canadians", junior Amanda Peterson answered jokingly.
Senior Kyle Nielsen and redshirt junior Brooke Pighin, who Peterson calls "The Founders" of present-day javelin at UW, both came to the United States from neighboring Canadian province British Columbia to attend college and pursue the event they love. Once they started having success, they attracted attention from others across the nation who wanted to join in their success. Peterson expands, "I think coming in, they're both on the National Team and whenever you have somebody who's on a national level, it's going to attract attention to get people to come. [When] what they're doing is working and what they're doing starts working for their teammates, you're going to get attention and you're going to get noticed. More people are going to want to become involved in it."
Assistant throws coach Reedus Thurmond sums up this sentiment saying that "everybody wants to be a part of something great [...] No one wants to get left behind in all the success."
For Nielsen (Langley, B.C.), like many others, javelin was just a side hobby until his junior year of high school. "I played hockey pretty competitively. Javelin was actually kind of a side thing, a fun thing to do in the spring in the offseason," he says. "Then I ended up breaking my collarbone twice in the eleventh grade and the doctor said `If you keep playing hockey, you'll probably keep breaking it'. As he was starting to show more promise in the javelin, Nielsen thought perhaps it was time to give that more of his time.
Before coming to UW, Nielsen had competed on a national and international level at events such as the 2007 Pan-American Junior Games in Brazil and won javelin at the 2007 Canadian Junior Nationals. In fall of 2007, he came to UW and found early success in collegiate competition. He qualified for the NCAA West Regionals and was the highest-placing freshman in the javelin at the Pac-10 Championships.
During Nielsen's sophomore year, he not only qualified but placed sixth at the NCAA Championships, the best by a Husky since 2000, earning him his first career All-American honor and posting the third-best throw in school history with the new implement (the javelin itself having been altered in 1986 to shorten distances). As if this success was not enough, two weeks after the NCAA's, he won the Canadian National Championship. From there, he has continued to improve, placing third at the NCAA Championships, the best by a Husky since 1985 and earning his second career All-American honor.
From his teammates' standpoint, Nielsen was the beginning of all this current UW success. Teammate Jimmy Brookman says, "Kyle Nielsen sort of started it all. He's one of the best in Canada, one of the best in America, and competed in the NCAA. His experience and his skills along with [Husky javelin volunteer coach] Dave Nyland, and with Joe Zimmerman having such a special season, we're all building off each other and just taking our experiences and putting them together."
As a senior, Nielsen is ready to take on the role of leader that is expected of him, saying that it helps his performance as much as it helps his teammates. "It's a cool experience to have the underclassmen come in and immediately look up to you. It helps me because when I'm trying to teach them and pass on knowledge that I have, it really reinforces all the good that I've learned over the years and it's good for me."
Pighin (Port Alberni, B.C.) attended Fresno State her freshman year but transferred to UW after one year in 2008. Javelin also was not her primary sport growing up, as she focused her time and effort on basketball, but she excelled at the event so she continued with it. Before coming to UW, she won the 2004 Canadian Junior National Championships and placed 5th in the 2008 Canadian Olympic Trials. While at Fresno State, she had the opportunity to train with some of the best including Kim Kreiner, the previous American record holder and 2-time Olympian, and Ramona Pagel, four-time Olympian in the shot put and Pan American Games gold medalist. In Pighin's first year as a Husky, she was a 7th place finisher at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, had the second best throw in school history, and earned her first career All-American honor. Last year, she was runner-up at the Pac-10 Championships but had several other wins including at the Pepsi Team Invitational and the Brutus Hamilton Invite. She made the NCAA Championship West Prelims but suffered a season-ending elbow tendon tear.
Pighin is spending this redshirt junior year off of competition rehabilitating and making herself even stronger for her senior season next year. She is also preparing and planning on the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Pighin says "Obviously [the past couple of years] have been limited by an elbow injury and finally getting it repaired this last July. I'm already seeing different results. It's really cool to see how things change so drastically when you're healthy and your body is not fighting against you every step of the way. I plan on doing this for at least another 10 years or so, so we will see what happens."
Sophomore Joe Zimmerman (Spokane, Wash.) was the 2009 4A Washington State champion in the javelin before coming to UW, but has now found national and international success since becoming a Husky. In his freshman year last year, he won the U.S.A. Junior National Championship and competed at the Junior World Championships in Moncton, Canada. He earned All-American honors as a freshman, placing 4th at NCAA Championships, one place behind teammate Kyle Nielsen, and also excelled in the classroom, earning USTFCCCA All-Academic Team honors. He is continuing his success into this year, coming on strong after a slow start to win the Oregon Relays and the UW-WSU dual meet with a season-best throw of 239-9 that ranks among the nation's best.
Jimmy Brookman, (Redmond, Wash.), also a sophomore, was a Junior Olympic qualifier and runner-up to future UW teammate Joe Zimmerman in the Washington 4A State Championships in high school. At UW, last year as a freshman, he qualified for NCAA West Regionals and set a new lifetime-best, scoring at his first Pac-10 Championships. He also earned USTFCCCA All-Academic Team honors in his first collegiate season. Brookman had yet another breakthrough at the UW-WSU dual meet, tossing a 12-foot lifetime-best of 227-2.
Amanda Peterson (Gig Harbor, Wash.), a transfer from Eastern Washington University has made an immediate impact and has quickly seen the effects of the knowledge within the Husky group. Peterson won the Washington State 3A title as a high school senior, establishing a new meet record. But in two years at Eastern she was unable to extend her career best from high school.
After an entire year off of collegiate competition while attending Tacoma Community College, Peterson came to UW as a bit of an unknown quantity but wasted little time jumping into the national picture. On her second throw as a Husky, she broke the school record, throwing 174 feet and 2 inches at the Pepsi Team Invitational. About this moment, Peterson says "It was cool, it was fun, it was a little bit unreal. You have so much adrenaline on the runway. First time being out in two years and, I don't know, it just happened."
One may think that breaking the school record is enough but she just continues to push harder and Nyland says Peterson's accomplishments have only just begun. "Amanda's had great success so far," Nyland says, "but she has a lot more in her still. Breaking the school record, it was a pretty good throw, but she can still do a lot better."
Peterson is just enjoying the ride on this wave of success as long as she can saying "It's definitely fun and it's definitely a dream. [I'd like to continue my involvement], Lord willing. If He wills it, then that's awesome. If not, then I'll follow His plan."
Also throwing the spear for UW are sophomores Ally Mueller and Jordin Seekins. They're each ranked in UW's Top-10 as well for the new implement, and will hope to contend for points at Pac-10s this year.
This lofty expectation on the part of all UW coaches and athletes shows why this team has been so successful. While Peterson already has the new women's mark, Nyland says "If the men's school record isn't broken this year, everyone is going to be pretty angry."
Track and field, or any individual sport, is distinct in that competitors battle to set their own records and individual highest scores, but how they do also affects the overall team score. Brookman says "It's an individual event but your momentum and how you do carries onto the next person. If they see you do well, they're going to want to do well. If they see you getting excited about a big PR, they're going to want to go out there and do the same" and later adds "When you're around people busting their butts trying to get better each day, you can't help but try to get better yourself."
Nielsen calls their group a "little javelin army" and says it's "nice because we're all supportive of each other and we kind of have our own ideals and outlooks on how the sport works. With all those different opinions, it kind of just is a big think tank and a lot of good stuff comes out of it."
Peterson adds a similar sentiment saying that "the better you are, the better the team is. You want to be the best possible contributor you can be."
"Amanda and I train together but it still is an individual event," Pighin adds. "You're very much out there for yourself. But, in training, it's when you get together in your own little groups and form your posse to support each other and train and work through things together."
As their individual success is obvious, coach Nyland comments on the team aspect of this group saying "We've got a great group of athletes who work and study incredibly hard. They encourage each other, they compete against each other. Everyone here wants to throw far and try really hard. They have a great work ethic and a great group dynamic."
If there's any downside to be found in the success the UW javelin team has recently found, it's that "Now I'm getting contacted by some of the best kids in the country and I have to tell them no, we just don't have enough money to spread around," coach Thurmond notes.
Washington looks to be set up well for the future even with Nielsen nearing the end of his Husky career. Two of UW's top recruits for 2012 are javelin throwers Curtis Clauson of Edmonds and Quinn Hale of Tacoma, who rank fifth and third, respectively, in the nation among high school seniors.
"It does make recruiting a lot easier but it does make it a little tougher to tell some kids no that normally we wouldn't say no to," but laughs and shakes his head in contented disbelief concluding, "It's a good problem to have."