Highlighted by a record-breaking handful of freshmen throwers, the up-and-coming Virginia track and field team is looking to showcase its young and talented squad in the ACC Outdoor Championships, which start today and run through Saturday.
The Cavalier squad, two-thirds of which are freshmen or sophomores, has been maturing all season. And none have stepped up more than the four freshmen throwers - two men and two women - who combined to break two school records in last weekend's Lou Onesty Invitational and grab six top-five spots, including three victories.
They have been doing it all spring long. Freshman Inge Jorgensen, a competitor in the discus, javelin and hammer, said the camaraderie of the young team - especially among her fellow throwers - has contributed to the early success.
"We have a great squad," said Jorgensen, who won the javelin last weekend. "The teamwork we have together is unbelievable."
One of the most talented new faces, Jorgensen has already qualified to compete for the NCAA Championships and the Olympic trials in the javelin after throwing 50.24 meters at the Duke Invitationals April 7.
Last weekend, however, Jorgensen was outshined by fellow freshman Eliese Mitchell, who won both the shot put and the hammer and set a new school record in the hammer throw with a toss of 52.10. In her first year throwing hammer, Mitchell has broken the record three times and is less than four meters away from attaining a qualifying distance for the NCAA Championships. Mitchell said she is confident her meteoric rise in the event could continue into June.
"If I have a good practice week and just happen to unleash one, yeah, I could go to NCAAs," Mitchell said.
On the men's side, freshman hammer thrower Bill Johnston also has caused heads to turn. At the East Carolina Relays March 29, Johnston made a smashing debut by breaking a 21-year-old Virginia record with a throw of 56.66, over three meters farther than Phil Vincenzes threw in 1979. Johnston broke the record again at the Onesty meet with a 57.58 and said he is looking forward to continuing his impressive run at the conference championships, where he will compete with some of the nation's best.
"I'll just take it as a fun meet," Johnston said. "I'll be throwing with the big boys. I'm just a first year, so I'm not supposed to be up anywhere yet."
But Johnston has been up all season, as have Jorgensen, Mitchell and freshman Tim Bilimas, who finished third in the discus last weekend. They are all part of a concerted effort by the track program to raise its throwing program to a national level.
"Those throwers we brought in, we knew they were going to be heavy hitters," Virginia coach Randy Bungard said. "The last two years, we've recruited really heavily, and I tried to bring national-class kids out of high school. I think in a lot of events, we've done that and it's starting to show now."
One person several throwers give credit to is new throw coach Jason Twedt. A former Army paratrooper, Twedt served as throwing coach at California-San Diego where he coached several All-Americans before Bungard recruited him to come to Charlottesville this season. He is popular among many of the young throwers and already has contributed greatly in his first year at Virginia.
"He's a great coach," Jorgensen said. "He really knows his stuff. We feel comfortable with what he tells us, and his style is really comprehendible."
Now that the throwers are comfortable with Twedt at the helm, the Cavaliers hope the foursome will continue to mature, breaking records and winning medals for years to come. It might be too much to ask for Jorgensen, Mitchell, Johnston and Bilmanis to develop into All-Conference performers by this weekend, but Virginia can count on the group to contribute at least a handful of points. For a squad that is focusing on the future as much as it is on the present, the group's first conference points could turn into conference victories soon enough.