Kiana Phelps refused to come up short again in the discus competition.
Going into her last throw on May 24 at the NCAA Division I West regional track and field preliminary meet in Sacramento, California, the University of Oregon redshirt sophomore didn’t have two good enough throws to make the national cut.
That’s when she went into her rabid dog mentality. And it worked.
Phelps, a Kingsley-Pierson High School graduate, made the 12-thrower cut on her last throw. Her last attempt was 183 feet, 2 inches, which was good for ninth place in the field of 48. It is the first time Phelps has qualified for the NCAA Division I meet, which starts Thursday in Austin, Texas.
Phelps’ first throw, 176-8, wasn’t going to be good enough to make the cut. The No. 12 qualifier was Colorado State’s Kelsey Bedard with a 178-5.
That forced Phelps to step it up going into her last throw, as seven throwers made personal bests that Friday.
Phelps ended up being one of those seven.
“So, I see on the board that I'm sitting on 13(th place) with one throw left,” Phelps said. “And I can't really describe it in any other way other than all of a sudden, I had this rabid dog instinct. Instead of being intimidated by the pressure, I just felt excited for the challenge I guess.
“I just stepped into the ring and although it was my first time in that ring in person, I feel like I'd already done it many times because I had visualized any possible situation I could get in and how to respond to it. So, it was pretty crazy, but I did it.”
Without that adrenaline, Phelps wasn’t sure she’d make the 183-2 mark. She does compete well in big-stage meets, but there was something different about this feeling.
“I think it's because of the adrenaline that I get and that crushes some people,” Phelps said. “I guess it depends on the way that you look at it. I don't know if you've ever heard the saying, ‘Make your butterflies fly in formation.’ But, you're going to feel butterflies before you compete because you're nervous. If you use that energy for your advantage, you can use it to a tool to do better than you would have done otherwise.”
Once she stepped out of the ring, Phelps hugged as many people as she could.
Phelps also competed in the shot put, and she finished in 23rd place with a throw of 51-5.75.
Last season, however, Phelps wasn’t as fortunate.
At the 2018 NCAA preliminaries, the former Panthers standout missed the cut by six inches. Sure, her best throw was a personal best of 174 feet even, but falling short was the only thing that weighed on Phelps mind.
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That 13th-place finish didn’t bring Phelps down — it fueled her to not let history repeat itself.
“I had done everything in the previous year,” Phelps said. “From last year's result, I've pretty much done everything in my control so that it wouldn't happen again. I guess some things feel like failures at the time but they end up making you better than you would have been without them. And that's how I feel life is. It's inevitable to fail at times because you will at times. But you can't be afraid of it because they can be opportunities for growth in disguise but only if you see it that way.”
So, Phelps started working in the offseason, especially in the weight room.
She improved her clean lift by 40 pounds compared to her best clean lifts as a K-P student-athlete. This year, she met the 175-pound mark.
“That's probably the most important lift for throwing just because it's so explosive,” Phelps said.
Phelps said her squats are also up by about 40 pounds since her high school days, too.
The west prelims meet wasn’t the only interesting scenario that Phelps and Oregon had to endure last month.
Weather took its toll on the Pac-12 championships, but not on Phelps.
She had to warm up for the shot put competition four different times due to weather conditions on May 12. She finished 10th in the shot put but had to move her focus to the discus.
She knew that it was going to have to be an endurance-type of competition and not one of power. As long as Phelps stayed mentally strong and physically ready, she wasn’t concerned about not doing well.
She battled all the elements by coming in third at the Pac-12 meet, as her longest throw was 172-5.
Phelps has always felt the need to contribute whatever she can for a program so rich in track and field and feels like she’s doing so this season.
“I kind of knew that there was going to be an adjustment period, but I had to stay patient,” she said. “But I guess a better way to say it is that I'm just really glad to be contributing. I feel like I always have been contributing, but I feel like I'm just happy about the amount I'm contributing now.”
Phelps is one of three national qualifiers from the West prelims with Iowa connections. The other two: Iowa Hawkeyes junior Laulauga Tausaga won the competition at 205-8, and Clinton High School graduate Sydney Laufenberg was 11th (181-4) for Illinois State.