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Nike Outdoor Nationals
June 18-20, 2009 at Greensboro NC
DyeStat on-site

Emily Vannoy - Girls SP
By SteveU

From three fouls to national champion
Emily Vannoy rebounds from crushing NIN loss to claim NON shot put

by SteveU, DyeStat/ESPN RISE senior editor
Photos by John Nepolitan

For a track and field athlete, few things are more wrenching to the heart and soul than fouling out of a competition.  This particular experience is unique, of course, to horizontal jumpers and throwers.  It’s not quite the same as no-heighting or having a horrible race (well, maybe like false-starting).  It’s the ultimate sense of self-sabotage, not giving yourself a chance, no matter what kind of shape you’re in and how ready you are to throw or jump.

So imagine being the top-ranked athlete in the country in your event, and having that happen to you at Nike Indoor Nationals your senior year.  You’ve placed high in previous championships, but all of the girls who’ve beaten you before have graduated, and you’re the clear favorite.  Everything seems fine as you’re getting ready … but you’re also aware that there’s a Canadian putter in the field that you weren’t aware of, who’s a 50-footer.  You might be a little unnerved, but you still could never have imagined what happens on your first three throws.  Foul.  Foul.  Foul.  That’s it, game over.

Welcome to shot putter Emily Vannoy’s world, mid-March, 2009.

Now it’s three months later, at Nike Outdoor Nationals.  You’ve bounced back and had a solid spring, and you’re favored again here.  You’re looking good in warmups, but then your foot is out of the ring again, a foul similar to what happened at NIN.

“I thought, This is a repeat of what happened indoors,” said Nick Agoris, Vannoy’s coach.  “I told her, short glide, stick it, and stay in the circle.”

So you do that, pumping it out to 46, and you’re mentally back on track.  First throw of the competition, you’re out to 47-11.25.  You don’t know it yet, but that throw will hold up for the championship.  For good measure, you again hit your seasonal best – 48-02 – on your last throw.  You’ve gone from three fouls to national champion.

That’s Emily Vannoy’s world, mid-June, 2009.

Going back to that mid-March morning isn’t Vannoy’s favorite thing to do.  “It was the worst day of my life,” the Frederick MD (Thomas Johnson HS) senior said.  “I was bombing 49s in warmups.  Something like that had never happened before in the shot.  But I guess I really felt a lot of pressure.”

She had come in to NIN just a couple of inches behind US#1 Melissa Kurzdorfer, who was throwing at NSIC.  She had placed third the year before, but those who beat her – Karen Shump PA and Becky O’Brien ME – were graduated.  She had also placed 2nd at 2008 NON, losing only to O’Brien.  So to say she was ready to win here was an understatement.

But when the competition started, she couldn’t stay in the circle.  She kept making toe fouls.  On the last one, everything in her screamed to dispute the call with the official, but the rational side of her knew it wouldn’t do any good, so she bit her lip and accepted her fate.

“It was unbelievable,” said Coach Agoris.  “We were all very disappointed for her.”

The crushing experience took some time to recover from, but the outdoor season was quick at hand and the coach worked on getting her confidence back up.  “I told her that was defeat, but you’re not ‘defeated,’” he said.

To break her of the bad habit before it really took hold,” Coach Agoris rolled out the heavy artillery.  “I was not allowed foul in practice,” Vannoy said.  “I had to run when I did.”

Another maxim, reinforced by Coach Agoris surely had to take hold at this point, as Vannoy had shared with Dyestat in a pre-NIN interview this winter:“There are always off days, but you can't let them hold you back.”  There’s hardly a bigger “off day” than fouling your way out of nationals.  But Vannoy knew she couldn’t let it hold her back.  There was an outdoor season to attack and a collegiate career at UVA ahead.

She started competing again and, while she wasn’t hitting her junior year bests, things were going OK.  Repeating as Penn Relays champ was a big deal, even though she hit just 45-01.  She won another Maryland state title, but still couldn’t break out of the 45s.

Finally, it was back to Greensboro for Friday’s girls shot.  Vannoy knew she couldn’t get into fouling and knew she’d have through further than 45-something.  “The competition was intense,” she said.  Coach Agoris talks a lot about muscle memory.  And in Vannoy’s first throw, the good memories came home to roost.

BOOM!  47-11.25 – first throw, Vannoy’s best since her indoor state meet.  That would give her the lead for good, though Jillian Rushin MO would hit 47-10.50 on her 2nd throw.  “It was a little close for my liking,” said Vannoy.

But Rushin didn’t improve and, on her final throw, Vannoy was able to let loose with one more big one – 48-02, her best throw since outdoor last year.  Finally, back into the 48s!  “I gave it everything I had,” she said.

“She’s an incredible competitor,” said a happy Coach Agoris.  He reflected on when the Vannoys first came to him and finally got together in fall of 2006, before her soph season.  She was just a 33-10 and 91-11 (DT) thrower as a freshman, then rocketed all the way into the high 47s as a soph.  Since then, however, the improvements have been incremental and Agoris knows it’s going to take the 5 or 6 days a week coaching he can’t provide her with now. 

“I think she has incredible potential,” he said.  “Technically, she has a big upside.  I really see her discus (147-08 PR from 2008) improving, too.  Her high school career has just been a stepping stone.  Her best days are ahead.”

But Coach Agoris will miss working with her.  “The most important thing is that she’s a really nice kid, a nice person.”