Long-shot Ashley: GJ graduate Long finds track and field rebirth with hammer throw

Western State track athlete Ashley Long, a Grand Junction High graduate,  swings the hammer at the Maverick Invitational earlier this year. Long was nearly done with track and field before she was introduced to the hammer throw. Now she’s on the verge of reaching the NCAA Division II national meet.



Ashley Long was on the verge of quitting track and field alltogether. Now, the Western State redshirt sophomore and Grand Junction High School graduate is on the verge of competing on a stage she’d at one time never dreamed of.

Long, who graduated from Grand Junction in 2014, competed mostly in the 300-meter hurdles when she was in high school. Three years after graduating, however, she’s one of the best hammer throwers in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, with her throw of 175 feet, 4 inches in her first meet of the season meeting NCAA Division II provisional qualifying standard.

Needless to say, meeting that standard, much less competing in the hammer throw, isn’t something she expected.

“There is no way I could have envisioned this,” said the 21-year-old Long, a sophomore who transferred to Western from Metro State in Denver after her freshman year. “To go from hurdles to this is crazy.”

Long was one of the first athletes in the country to meet the preliminary qualifying standard of 52 meters, or 170-6, well short of the automatic qualifying mark of 193-7 1/4 that only three athletes in the nation have met. Long’s mark did not automatically qualify her for the Division II national meet, but it put her among all athletes who have met provisional standards. The NCAA can take up to 20 athletes for individual events, and Long’s distance ranks 23rd nationally.

She’s not very big, either. The 21-year-old stands 5 feet, 4 inches and weighs 135 pounds, which is much different from the typical weight person. She uses her size to her advantage, though, creating enough spin speed in the thrower’s circle to compensate for her lack of size.

There’s the technical aspect of the event as well.

“It’s insane how much detail goes into this,” Long said. “It’s probably the most technical, most detail-oriented thing I’ve ever done.”

It wasn’t something she’d thought of doing right away, though.

Long initially went to Metro State to compete in track and field but, during a weight-training session as a freshman, she suffered a pair of herniated discs in her spine and had to sit out. She redshirted her freshman year but said she didn’t enjoy her time at Metro, and a friend prompted her to transfer to Western.

She lost a year of eligibility, Western State assistant sports information director Shaun Wicen said, when Metro wouldn’t release her after her transfer. And even after her transfer, Long still felt pain in her back that was keeping her, she said, from competing at a level she wanted to compete at.

She approached head coach Chris Bradford about quitting, but throwing coach Dan Haakenson instead encouraged her to try throwing.

“He told me to try it for a week and if I liked it, he’d love to have me on the team,” Long said. “If I didn’t, I was free to leave.”

She’s still there, though, and realizes she has to step up her throwing distances if she wants to ensure herself a spot at the Division II national meet. That’s a far cry from the performances in high school for Long, who never qualified individually for the Class 5A state track and field meet in Lakewood.

Now, she’s on the verge of competing against some of the best athletes in the nation at the Division II level.

“I know I can improve,” she said. “I had a couple of throws that were 55 and 56 meters (at the Colorado Invitational in Boulder this past weekend) but I scratched, so I know I have that in me. I’m fully confident I’ll get to the national meet, but just to be in this position is absolutely awesome.”

Ashley Long was on the verge of quitting track and field all together. Now, Western State redshirt sophomore and Grand Junction High School graduate is on the verge of competing on a stage she’d at one time never dreamed of.

Long, who graduated from Grand Junction in 2014, competed mostly in the 300-meter hurdles when she was in high school. Three years after graduating, however, she’s one of the best hammer throwers in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, with her throw of 175 feet, 4 inches in her first meet of the season meeting NCAA Division II provisional qualifying standard.

Needless to say, meeting that standard, much less competing in the hammer throw, isn’t something she expected.

“There is now way I could have envisioned this,” said the 21-year-old Long, a sophomore who transferred to Western from Metro State in Denver after her freshman year. “To go from hurdles to this is crazy.”

Long was one of the first athletes in the country to meet the preliminary qualifying standard of 52 meters, or 170-6 - well short of the automatic qualifying mark of 193-7 1/4 that only three athletes in the nation have met. Long’s mark did not automatically qualify her for the Division II national meet, but it put her among the 25 athletes who have met provisional standards. The NCAA can take up to 20 athletes for individual events, and Long’s distance ranks 19th nationally.

She’s not very big, either. The 21-year-old stands 5 feet, 4 inches and weighs 135 pounds, which is much different from the typical weightperson. She uses her size to her advantage, though, creating enough speed in the thrower’s circle to compensate for her lack of size.

There’s the technical aspect of the event as well.

“It’s insane how much detail goes into this,” Long said. “It’s probably the most technical, most detail-oriented thing I’ve ever done.”

It wasn’t something she’d thought of doing right away, though.

Long initially went to Metro State in Denver to compete in track and field but, during a weight-training session as a freshman, she suffered a pair of herniated discs in her spine and had to sit out. She redshirted her freshman year but said she didn’t enjoy her time at Metro, and a friend prompted her to transfer to Western.

She lost a year of eligibility, Western State assistant sports information director Shaun Wicen said, when Metro wouldn’t release her after her transfer. And even after her transfer, Long still felt pain in her back that was keeping her, she said, from competing at a level she wanted to compete at.

She approached head coach Chris Bradford about quitting, but throwing coach Dan Haakenson instead encouraged her to try throwing.

“He told me to try it for a week and if I liked it, he’d love to have me on the team,” Long said. “If I didn’t, I was free to leave.”

She’s still there, though, and realizes she has to step up her throwing distances if she wants to ensure herself a spot at the Division II national meet. That’s a far cry from the performances in high school for Long, who didn’t qualify for the Class 5A state track and field meet in Lakewood.

Now, she’s on the verge of competing against some of the best athletes in the national at the Division II level.

“I know I can improve,” she said. “I had a couple of throws that were 55 and 56 meters (at the Colorado Invitational in Boulder this past weekend) but I scratched, so I know I have that in me. I’m fully confident I’ll get to the national meet, but just to be in this position is absolutely awesome.”


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