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Danica Haight Article
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Thursday, March 31, 2005

See how she throws

West's Haight gaining notoriety

By Susan Harman
Iowa City Press-Citizen

 

Danica Haight thinks her friend Sarah Wickman is a rock star.

Wickman won the state cross country title, the Drake Relays 3,000 meters and the state 1,500 meters as a freshman and led West High to the cross country team title as a sophomore. Indeed, she qualifies as teen athletic celebrity.

Haight can't seem to imagine herself in that company. The mere thought sends her into giggles of embarrassment. Yet her accomplishments are creeping ever so close to that kind of status.

At last week's Dickinson relays at the UNI-Dome, Haight set the meet record with a shot put of 43 feet, 4 inches. Last spring at the state meet, after a whole season of competition she threw 38 feet, inch to place fifth.

"I've kind of surprised myself," Haight said, hesitantly. "I was thinking maybe I'll throw 39."

Her improvement qualifies as a quantum leap forward.

"She's definitely a lot stronger this year and faster," West High coach Mike Parker said. "And just learning the event. The shot put and the discus, they are very technical events."

"This year we are working with the boys' throwing coach (Brad Wymer), and he's helped a lot," Haight said. "We are doing this new weight-lifting program too. I think it's helping."

Parker expects Haight will show similar improvement in the discus once the team gets outside for practice. But she is already the one to beat in the shot.

"Clearly, as a sophomore, she is, all classes combined in Iowa, the absolute best," Parker said. "She hasn't even grown into understanding how good she is."

Haight might prefer to think she's a groupie hanging around the periphery of West High's A-List stars. It's a safe place. The expectations are different. The light doesn't shine as brightly.

Her first loves are volleyball and softball. Track wasn't so much of an after thought as a non-thought. But Jeff Kuepker, a junior high coach, saw her athletic talent and urged her to try the sport.

"He made me go out for track and he made me throw, and I just kept doing it because my parents kept making me do it," she said, laughing. "I was winning sometimes."

"To be quite honest with you, we made her go out for track last year," her father, former Iowa football lineman Mike Haight, said. "She did not want to go out. We made her do it because the coaches told us her potential was so great, and sure enough they were right."

The Dickinson Relays was a test for Danica in more ways than one. After winning the shot at the Mississippi Valley Conference indoor meet earlier in the week, she had a simple goal and it had nothing to do with numbers.

"I just wanted to win and get a shirt," she confessed.

The atmosphere was charged, much different than a regular-season meet, particularly for the throwers who are often consigned to adjacent fields out of sight of the stands by the track. Close to 2,000 spectators were in the Dome.

"It was exciting," Parker said. "I've been to a lot of elite-level meets with some superstar athletes, but (Thursday) night the whole crowd there...The whole show was Danica. When she would step into the circle the announcer would announce, 'Danica Haight is stepping into the circle.' They didn't do that for any other event, and we had many, many state champions there."

"It was kind of scary too," Danica said. "I don't really like attention like that. One time they were announcing my name right when I was throwing.

"That's the time I scratched."

But somehow the shy, 'don't-look-at-me' Haight overcame the weight of the attention and expectations and kept throwing farther and farther.

"When Danica got up, they stopped everything, and she didn't disappoint," Parker said. "They did that on three consecutive throws. They announced Danica Haight's last throw, and she really put it out there and the place just went crazy."

Mike Haight remembers watching Danica calmly walk away after the record-breaking throw.

"But the coaches, the head coach and a couple of his assistants, were jumping up and down," Mike Haight said. "The person who normally yells out the score, it almost looked like not only did he do a double take, he took a triple take looking at it. People are looking around like 'there's no way, this couldn't happen.' But it did."

Parker said he hopes this early season milestone will help Haight "get a grasp on where she ranks as a shot putter."

Now that she's cut her first record, Haight might just have to get used to being among the rest of the rock stars at center stage.