WSU's Adamko thrown for a loop, but back on track

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photoAnna Adamko, Washington State University track and field.

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Coming Thursday

College Notebook will feature many more Clark County athletes in competition last weekend.

A year ago, Anna Adamko won a third consecutive Class 3A state championship in the javelin.

Next week, she will compete in the javelin in the NCAA Division I Championship meet.

That might seem like a clear progression, something not particularly surprising and perhaps almost expected.

But the last year has been anything but a smooth road for the Columbia River High School graduate.

Despite winning the javelin again, Adamko did not even qualify for the state meet in either shot put or discus after winning a discus state championship and placing fourth in shot put as a junior.

Combined with some trying personal matters and the normal anxiety about going off to college as a freshman, it was a tumultuous time.

"I had gotten extremely out of shape my senior year, and it just didn't follow through the way I wanted it," the Washington State University freshman said from Austin, Texas, where she placed 10th at the NCAA West Preliminary Round meet to qualify for nationals. "I just went through a very rough patch the whole summer of 2011. It was an awful summer for me — life events that just got to me, and I was at a very low state.

"Getting to Washington State and training every day and seeing people and working with the coaches really got my spirits back up to keep going and believe in myself that I am worth the work — that all this work will pay off."

It is paying off now.

NCAA preliminaries

It was a hot, humid meet in Austin. As one of the lower-seeded of the 48 entrants, Adamko was in the first of three flights for preliminaries during the heat of the day. She had to wait for the other two flights to finish before knowing which 16 throwers would advance to finals. While the stress and nerves increased, the temperature was decreasing as the sun dropped.

Two weeks after placing seventh at the Pacific-12 Conference Championships with a personal record of 150 feet, 1 inch, Adamko's mark of 154-4 1/4 on her second throw of preliminaries at Austin put her in the finals. That was the best of her first five throws, a P.R. by more than four feet — but not enough for a trip to nationals.

When she learned she would be in the finals, all of Adamko's anxiety melted away.

"It was my main goal to make finals, and once I reached finals, I completely calmed down," she said. "I said, 'OK, I'm in finals now. You can just relax. But while I'm here in finals, you might as well give it your best shot and see if you can make the top 12.'

"I'm not saying top 12 was a longshot for me because I had been preparing myself mentally to get ready for this, but the feeling that I was in finals calmed me down a lot, and I said, 'You know what? You're here. Just go for it.' That was my attitude."

Checking performance lists before leaving for Texas told Adamko she probably had to hit at least 155 feet to make nationals.

"I just mentally prepared myself," she said. "I said, 'If you want to make it to finals, you're going to have to do a little something extra.' "

Her sixth and final throw of the meet sailed 159-7, good for 10th place and one of 12 spots at nationals, and 9 1/2 feet farther than her P.R. when the day began.

Adamko is seeded 12th of 24 throwers who will compete starting at 12:40 p.m. Pacific time next Wednesday at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. The full NCAA Championship meet runs June 6-9.

Changes in college

Arriving in Pullman and starting to work with WSU associate head coach Debra Farwell began to turn around Adamko's spirits. Farwell's deicision to concentrate Adamko on javelin — "That's a big enough job for me right now as a freshman," the athlete said — and revamp her approach was a challenge at first, but results followed.

"At the beginning of the season, my coach noticed my form and technique, and she completely changed it," Adamko said. "We worked on this changing form — correcting form — for months and months, and I've been essentially adjusting to the form. It's a progression. It's meet by meet, practice by practice. I wouldn't say I struggled, but it's really hard to fix your technique and apply it at meets when you work on it at practice, so that's something that I've been working on mastering. There have been frustrating times, but overall, it's gotten a lot better."

Farwell said the changes in form were many small things that can add up to a big difference, but she and Adamko agreed that the thrower's adjustment was a struggle early in the process.

"We just cleaned up a lot of things, a lot of biomechanical things that she was doing incorrectly — real simple physics stuff," Farwell said. "She staying over her feet better, she's throwing through the point better. With her tempo on the runway, she's starting to understand what tempo is. It was just a lot of simple mechanical things that make sense through physics."

Farwell also attributes part of Adamko's improvement to her training regimen at WSU. That is particularly in the weight room, where she has added strength that enables her to take more throws in practice than is typical for the event — making the analogy that most throwers are like baseball pitchers who limit their workload between appearances to avoid excessive strain. In Adamko's case, Farwell said, taking more repetitions has helped to fuel her improvement.

"It was a little bit of an adjustment for her, but she's done a great job and I'm so proud of her," Farwell said.

As the new form becomes simply her form through practice and repetition, Adamko's marks have steadily improved all spring.

Her mood began to improve right away.

"We started to train right when I first got to school in August, so we've been training physically for nine months," Adamko said. "My spirits were lightened a lot. I got out of my sort of dark place, you could say."

Until her difficult senior year, Adamko said, "My competitiveness, I believe, was a strong point for me. I've gained back my competitive drive. I'm very good under pressure nowadays. It's just something I got with experience and the support of coaches -- that I feel confident with what I've been taught. It really helps."

Looking ahead

While she is meeting her goals late in her first collegiate season, Adamko knows that more goals remain.

"I'm definitely not getting cocky about it," she said. "I know that once I get home from this trip, I'll be going back to practice and training with my coach again and getting back to it and preparing myself mentally."

It helps Adamko's mental preparation that she has competed at Drake Stadium before, placing seventh at the 2010 USA Junior Outdoor Track and Field Championship.

"That really helps me with the visualization process," she said. "It calms me down knowing that I know the atmosphere there, and I know what it feels like to be at bigger meets."

Adamko has been throwing consistently in the high 150s in recent practices, Farwell said, and the coach believes the thrower can extend her marks past 160 feet at nationals.

"I'd love for her to get to that NCAA final," the coach said. "I think that would be a great thing for her to do there. ... She's improving and she's starting to understand this, and I just really think the sky's the limit for her."

And no matter what happens in Des Moines, Adamko is in a better place.

"It definitely did get better," she said. "I can't even describe how much brighter spirits I'm in now, especially with the help of my parents. ... I'm just going to keep working hard like I have been. I'm just going to keep going for it."