With the NCAA Track & Field Championships beginning next week, we thought now would be a good time to get to know some of USC’s athletes that will be competing. First we featured Josh Mance, a sprinter who will be running the open 400m as well as the 4x400m relay. Next, we bring to you a thrower whose career path has been anything but typical.
Meet Marissa Minderler.
Minderler walked on to USC’s track team as a freshman and initially she wanted to a heptathlete. She had been a sprinter from fourth grade until high school so at the college level she decided to try her hand at some of the field events as well.
A heptathlon consists of the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200-meter, long jump, javelin, and the 800-meter race, and the athletes in this event compete over two days.
However, her fate changed once she actually got out on the field.
“Coach [Dan Lange] thought I could be a good heptathlete, but a great thrower. At first I was like, ‘crap, I’ve never done this before, I’m gonna get fat,” Minderler reflects jokingly. “But I took a leap of faith and decided to do it.”
She redshirted her freshman year but after that Minderler was on the fast track to success. She started practicing the shot put, the javelin and the hammer throw and by her sophomore year she was ready to compete. She even qualified for the NCAA Finals, after just two years. Competing in the hammer throw at NCAAs, Minderler placed 14th overall. As a junior she again made the NCAA finals in the hammer throw, and again placed 14th.
Her senior year though is when she really hit her stride. Right now she is the 7th-ranked collegiate women’s hammer thrower, with a PR of 67.35m (220 ft., 10 in.) going into the NCAA championships. She set that PR at the Pac-12 Championships two weeks ago, and won the event for the second time.
Pretty impressive for a girl who picked up the sport for the first time just five years ago.
Minderler attributes her success to having such a great coach in Dan Lange, and for being able to have a solid, steady trajectory while at ‘SC. Since she came to the hammer throw as a newbie in college, she says didn’t have the years to develop bad habits, nor did she have to bounce around from coach to coach. Rather, she was able to just build from the ground up and routinely get better and better.
For those who don’t know, the hammer throw is a sport Minderler describes as “archaic”, originating in Scotland hundreds of years ago. It is basically a shot put attached to four feet of wire with a handle on the other end. For the women’s competition, the “hammer” weights 4 kilos (8.8 lbs) and in the men’s, it weights around 8 kilos (16 lbs). While the sport has been around for men for years, women’s hammer throw is relatively new. In fact, it made it’s first appearance in the Olympics just 12 years ago in 2000. The sport has come a long way in that time: back then, the World Record was around 60 meters and now the record is just a few centimeters shy of 80m.
Much like Minderler, the sport has come a long way in a relatively short amount of time.
After NCAAs, Minderler will also move on to the Olympic Trials that take place in late June. She is not only nationally ranked amongst collegiate throwers, but she is also ranked amongst the pros—number twelve in the US, to be exact. “At NCAAs I will get the chance to improve my mark, but either way I am going to the trials,” Minderler says, “It’s awesome.”
This will be her first Olympic Trial, and she cannot wait to be there amongst the best in her sport. “It’s really cool. With it being an Olympic year, the best of the best in each sport really come out, the marks get higher, and the expectations really go up across the board. It’s the last chance for me to throw an ‘A’ or ‘B’ standard.”
Currently only two or three people have the “A” standard, so everyone else at the trials will be essentially competing for the last spot on the roster. While Minderler says she is not at that level yet in her career, that doesn’t make the impending experience any less exciting.
“I’m in a really good position because I’m basically going without expectations, so I can go and just have fun with it and whatever happens, happens.”
It’s definitely plausible that she will go on to accomplish big things by the 2016 Olympics, as USC is not unfamiliar with striking gold in this event. At the 1996 Olympics, the top male hammer thrower was Balazs Kiss who won the gold for Hungary but competed in college as a Trojan. He still holds an NCAA record in the sport. On the women’s side, fellow countrywoman Eva Orban also competed for USC in college and made it to the Olympic qualifiers for the Beijing games.
In her future, Minderler sees herself continuing her career with the hammer throw in conjunction with whatever life throws at her at the time. “I will be a part-time normal person who is subject to taxes and reality and a part-time professional athlete,” Minderler said, her budding personality always present in her voice. “I’m just going to keep training and living around USC and getting better.”
She still has some exciting dreams to accomplish down the line, but for now Minderler can pride herself on the fact that she went from being a walk-on to being eligible for the Olympic Trials, she has her final upcoming NCAA championship, and the fact that just earlier this month she got to walk across the stage at USC and receiver her bachelor’s degree in kinesiology.
Not bad, Minderler, not bad at all.