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Heidegger scores big at conference meet

Josh Heidegger's unique athletic gifts created a conundrum this past weekend.

They enabled him to score a dozen points for Northwest Nazarene University in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Track and Field Championships.

But they also contributed to a scheduling conflict that might have prevented him for producing even more.

The freshman from Jacksonville won the javelin on Friday and placed seventh in the triple jump on Saturday — both with career-best marks — as the Crusader men placed fifth.

They scored 73 points in the meet at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Wash. Western Oregon won the team title with 166.5.

Heidegger also qualified in the discus, which is new to him this spring. But that event was scheduled so close to the triple jump, his chances were severely compromised.

Meet organizers likely didn't expect someone who is fast and nimble enough for the triple jump to also be big and strong enough to compete in the discus.

"I made things kind of awkward for them," laughed Heidegger, who last school year helped Cascade Christian High to Class 2A football and basketball state championships and won the javelin and triple jump state titles in track.

Despite getting little out of the discus — he didn't get any warm-up tosses and scratched on his only two attempts before racing back to the triple jump pit — Heidegger had a memorable meet.

Especially in his specialty, the javelin.

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Heidegger had battled a strained hamstring much of the season, which hindered him in the triple jump and on his run-up in the javelin.

"It wasn't coming together in the outdoor season," said Heidegger. "I was throwing pretty good and getting some PRs, but I just knew I could throw better. It all came together Friday. It was pretty cool."

Before the GNAC meet, Heidegger fine-tuned his technique with coach Tim Beck, then entered the championships in good health and with a personal best of 186 feet.

His three preliminary throws were in the mid to high 180s, then his first throw in the finals sailed 193 feet, the first time he'd eclipsed 190.

No sooner did Heidegger take the lead with that throw than Ian Wells of Central Washington went 194-1. On the last of their three attempts, Wells didn't better his mark, but Heidegger did with a heave of 199-1 — the best mark in the conference for the season and well over the provisional qualifying mark of 195-0 for the NCAA Division II championships later this month in Oshkosh, Wis.

"I don't really yell or anything, but I was really pumped up," Heidegger said. "I was excited to do well and score points for my team. I couldn't stop smiling. I felt blessed to be able to experience being at the top of the (medals) podium my freshman year."

Heidegger isn't guaranteed a berth at nationals despite meeting the provisional mark. He still must rank in the top 16 nationally. He's currently 18th. The automatic qualifying mark is 205 feet.

Heidegger has one more chance in a meet Saturday at Western Oregon University in Monmouth — site of his state titles last spring — to improve on his mark.

"Hopefully, I'll pop a big one," said Heidegger.

On Saturday, Heidegger placed seventh in the triple jump with a leap of 43-21/4. Teammate Greg Hamm won at 46-103/4.

When Heidegger raced over to the discus, the odds were against him scoring points. He'd only picked up the event in March, at head coach John Spatz's suggestion, and set his PR a week earlier with a throw of 134-4. To top it off, Central Washington's throwing ring is a difficult one in which to operate.

Some rings are slippery and favor technical throwers, said Spatz, and some are sticky and favor stronger throwers. He couldn't put his finger on why this ring, which is tucked back into a corner, is such a challenge.

But, he said, "I've been coaching track at the college level for 20-some years, and we've had trouble with that ring for as long as I can remember."

His own school record holder didn't make the finals, so Spatz couldn't fault Heidegger for scratching twice, he said.

Spatz is a former decathlete, and when a multitalented athlete such as Heidegger comes along, he occasionally suggests they try that grueling event.

He's hesitant to do so with Heidegger, he said, because the Rogue Valley product could eventually contend for a national title in the javelin and a conference title in the triple jump.

"I don't know if I want to dilute his God-given talent to 10 events," said Spatz. "He's such a good one, if it's not broken, don't fix it."

Just give him time to compete.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com

Heidegger scores big at conference meet