EUGENE, Ore. -- The success Bowling Green’s Brooke Pleger has had in the hammer throw is surprising when you realize she never really wanted to take up the sport in high school.
If she keeps getting better at the rate she's going, get ready to see her back at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships next year. Pleger finished third in the event this year, and she has one year of eligibility left.Pleger started her athletic career as a gymnast, and competed in the sport for more than a decade. When she reached high school, her gymnastics coach, who was married to the track coach, thought that she could excel at track.
Great, Pleger thought. She liked to run and fancied herself a sprinter. Unfortunately, the coach had other ideas and told her to go practice with the throwers. Pleger was less than pleased.
“When I first started throwing shot and discus, I was not happy,” Pleger said. “I felt like the non-athletes got put over there. So I was a little insulted. I wasn’t super happy about it.”
Pleger did well in the discus, earning all-conference as a sophomore and placing first at regionals as a junior and senior.
Pleger didn’t even pick up a hammer until her senior year, but once she did had immediate success. She set the state record in the hammer throw as a senior.
Wanting to be close to home, Pleger chose BGSU and her coach had her throwing the shot put, discus and hammer throw with moderate success. She took the following year off and came back from the redshirt year with a new coach.
“I threw disc for a little bit but once we got a new coach we decided to focus on hammer,” Pleger said. “It worked out great for me.”
She won five of the seven meets she participated in and had a throw of 209 feet at the national championships to qualify for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships, where she finished seventh and earned All-American honors.
“It was and exciting year,” Pleger said “I became a student of the sport and I am so happy I was able to represent my school in the sport. It meant a lot.”
This year, Pleger won five regular-season meet championships and had three stadium records. Pleger won the Mid-American Conference title for the second consecutive season, breaking her own meet record in the process at 218-feet-9. She set a personal best of 223-0 late in the year that ranked No. 2 in the country.
Coming to this year’s NCAA outdoor championships, Pleger was set to battle No. 1 seed Julia Ratcliffe of Princeton for the individual title. Ratcliffe prevailed, as Pleger finished third.
“Obviously I wanted to win,” Pleger said. “I think the most frustrating thing is the winning throw is something I am totally capable of throwing. I have thrown that before. I am pushing for more, pushing for more so it’s a little disappointing."
If Pleger would have won she would have been the first BGSU track athlete to win an NCAA title, but it wasn’t something that concerned her.
“It would have been nice to do, but I didn’t think about it that much,” Pleger said. “I feel like most of the pressure is what I put on myself. I don’t think about setting records that much.”
Pleger not only achieved the best finish in BGSU women's track and field history but had the best showing across all sports at BGSU in a national championship event since Marny Oestreng won a gymnastics national championship in the floor exercise in 1999. The only other individual national championships in BGSU history came from men's track and field athletes Sid Sink (1970 and '71, steeplechase national champion) and Dave Wottle (1972 and '73, in the 1,500 meter).
“I'm proud of Brooke,” BGSU head coach Lou Snelling said. “To come to this site and to perform at that level, it's exciting. She proved once again that you can come to Bowling Green and compete on this scale.”
With one year remaining in her collegiate career, Pleger is determined to better her performance next season. If she does, she will be the first three-time All-American in the school’s history.
"There are so many different theories and new ways to throw the hammer far that it is just exciting to learn and be part of it,” Pleger said. “I feel like if I keep going the way that I have been and trusting my coach and training I think there is a very good chance.”