Maggie Ewen instantly knew it was a good throw. She expected it to travel 230 feet, maybe 235, wrapping up a satisfying performance in the hammer throw at the U.S. track and field championships to end a record-setting season.
Ewen sat in fourth place before that final throw in Sacramento, Calif., with the top three earning invitations to the world championships. “It had already been a great meet for me, and I was really happy about it when I walked out of the ring,’’ the St. Francis native said. “Then the score popped up on the board. And I was like, ‘You’re kidding me.’ ’’
The throw measured a personal-best 244 feet, 7 inches — only 9 inches short of Gwen Berry’s winning distance, and far enough to qualify Ewen for the world championships in London. The senior-to-be at Arizona State will compete Saturday in the preliminary round, capping a season packed with surprises for a woman who plunged into the hammer throw only four years ago.
A coaching change at Arizona State last summer left Ewen expecting to spend this season adjusting to a new technique. Instead, she adapted seamlessly to Brian Blutreich’s methods.
As a redshirt junior, Ewen won the NCAA title in the hammer throw, setting a collegiate record of 240-7; won the hammer, discus and shot put at the Pac-12 championships; finished in the top six in all three at the NCAA meet; and was named women’s field athlete of the year by the nation’s college coaches.
Blutreich predicts there is much more to come, especially in the hammer throw. While the 5-10 Ewen is a natural at the event, he said the hours she devotes to mastering it have accelerated her evolution. As surprised as Ewen was by the outcome at the U.S. championships, her coach viewed it as just another step in her progression.
“She probably didn’t realize she could throw that far this year,’’ said Blutreich, a 1992 Olympian in discus. “Some people are just meant to do certain things, and I think she found her event.
“She believed, and we saw the fruits of her labor as the season went on. This was a huge step for her to make the team for worlds. But I don’t think she’s anywhere near topping out.’’
During her years at St. Francis High School, Ewen won four state titles in the discus and three in the shot put. Yet her father and coach, Bruce Ewen, thought the hammer throw might someday be her best event — just as it had been for him during a college career at Illinois State.
Ewen redshirted her first year at Arizona State and did intensive work with Sun Devils coach David Dumble. In 2016 — her second season of competition — Ewen finished fifth in the hammer throw at the NCAA championships, won the Pac-12 title, broke the conference record and was ninth at the U.S. Olympic trials. When Dumble unexpectedly quit last summer, though, she wasn’t sure what would come next.
“I was terrified,” Ewen said. “I went to our head coach [Greg Kraft], and I had the transfer papers in my hand. But he told me, ‘We’re not going to let you down.’
“I put my faith in them. And I can’t say how thankful I am that [Blutreich] is working with us now. It’s been a tough year, trying to change a lot of deeply set patterns, but it’s been awesome.’’
Blutreich, Ewen said, has a completely different approach and style than Dumble. She anticipated her results would suffer as she learned a new way of throwing, shifting from three turns to four to get extra speed.
Instead, she took a giant leap forward. Ewen broke the NCAA hammer throw record in March with a toss of 238-6, then did it again at the NCAA championships. She was the top individual scorer at the NCAA meet, tallying 21 points with her win in the hammer throw, second place in discus and sixth in shot put.
Blutreich felt she still was peaking when they went to the U.S. championships in late June. Ewen responded with her best series of throws this season, finishing second to Berry — the American record holder — with that herculean final effort.
“Her last throw is usually her best, which is a sign of a good competitor,’’ Blutreich said. “But to get a PR on the last throw to make the world championships team, that’s special. And the beauty of coaching her is, she’s still learning.’’
Ewen’s throw of 244-7 at the U.S. championships is the eighth best in the world this season. Olympic gold medalist Anita Wlodarczyk of Poland holds the world record of 272-3 and is heavily favored to win.
At the world meet, Ewen isn’t sure what to expect — but this season has taught her not to put limits on what is possible.
“Going into the [U.S. championships], we had the attitude that whatever happened would be awesome,’’ she said. “It was already a great season.
“Being able to put that extra cherry on top, it’s a crazy feeling. I still can’t believe I threw that far.’’