One extra turn has turned Augustana’s Marckus Simmons into a national championship contender.
The Vikings’ senior enters competition at this weekend’s NCAA Division III Men’s Track and Field Championships as the top seed in the hammer throw, an event where he has spent the spring rewriting the Augustana record book.
“It’s been a pretty remarkable season, but I’m done yet. I want to be a champion,’’ Simmons said. “This week, that’s the goal.’’
Simmons has a realistic opportunity to make that happen.
He broke the school record in the event for the third time this season a week ago, uncorking a throw of 206 feet, 8 inches at the Augustana Twilight Qualifier in his final warm-up before this week's NCAA meet in Geneva, Ohio.
The effort broke his previous school record of 200 feet, 7 inches that Simmons set earlier this month at the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin Championships.
Simmons arrived at Augustana having thrown the discus and shot put at Downers Grove North High School, but has found over time that he has the right combination of skill, strength and agility to successfully throw the hammer.
It starts with footwork and Simmons believes participating in dance as a youth now benefits him as he prepares to throw.
“The coordination that it takes to be successful in dance carries over to the flow that you need as you get ready to throw the hammer,’’ Simmons said.
Improvements in core strength over time helped Simmons progress and last summer, shortly after he finished ninth at last year’s NCAA finals, he saw improvements in how far he could throw the 16-pound hammer.
Simmons rotates throws of 14-, 16- and 18-pound hammers in practice with Augustana throws coach David Gonzalez and while training during the offseason, he found significant gains in distance after he switched from three to four turns before his throw.
It started as an experiment but the benefits have been measured in feet.
“That additional turn is has me going faster and that allows me to throw farther,’’ he said. “That has made things a lot easier for me. I’m much more comfortable now and that is showing in the results.’’
Simmons’ seed throw heading into the NCAA meet is nearly 14 feet farther than the best effort of second-seeded Tyler Eldred of Wisconsin-River Falls and is just over 15 feet better than the third seed, Augustana teammate Cody Wheeler.
The sophomore from United Township has thrown 192 feet, 2 inches this season.
“Cody’s made some great strides this season,’’ Simmons said. “He’s making me better with how hard he works at it. It’s been a good situation for both of us.’’
Augustana has not had an individual champion at the NCAA Division III outdoor meet since 2007 when Ted McMillan won both the high jump and the 400-meter hurdles.
Several Vikings have seeds that will give them an opportunity to change that during the three-day meet which begins today in Geneva, Ohio.
In addition to Simmons and Wheeler, Josh Yamamoto is the fourth seed in the 400 hurdles and Tanner Osing is the ninth seed in the 5,000.
Osing is looking to build off of a school-recording setting performance in the event last month at the Drake Relays.
His time of 14 minutes, 16.76 seconds against a field primarily consisting of NCAA Division I and II runners trimmed nearly five seconds off of the previous Augustana record which was set in 1996 by five-time NCAA champion Ambo Bati.
“Drake was a real stepping stone for me. To run as well as I did against that level of competition was important, but even more so was the way I was able to move up during the race,’’ said Osing, a junior from Havana, Illinois.
“It was good for me to be in that type of situation where I was able to work my way up and maintain the type of pace that I had. That should really benefit me this week.’’
While Augustana won national relay titles in recent years, Osing said the Vikings’ individual opportunities give this year’s NCAA finals a different feel.
“It’s a chance to do some things that haven’t been done around here in a few years,’’ he said. “To be in the hunt to win a national championship and put myself in a position to do that and compete at that level, that’s the exciting thing about this week.’’
Simmons, who expects to continue competing beyond his college career, agrees.
“To finish my college career with a national championship would be the ultimate,’’ Simmons said. “That’s the goal going into it, to have my best meet of the year. This is what is you compete for, to be the best.’’