Former Forest Grove star Lauren Sexton shines on a national stage at Concordia
When a school starts a new athletic program, it can be expected that the first season of competition will be a bit rocky.
Lauren Sexton, Jessie Gallaher and Scott Halley, though, were determined to help Concordia University's first-year track and field program hit its mark - and they did just that.
Sexton, Gallaher and Halley each helped ring in Concordia's inaugural track and field season last spring by becoming the first national champions in school history. And after their stellar seasons last year, each athlete enters the 2007 season nationally ranked in the January edition of Track and Field News.
Sexton, a Forest Grove native and former high school standout, is ranked 10th in the nation in women's javelin, while Halley is ranked 18th in the men's javelin. Gallaher ranks at No. 21 in the men's pole vault.
With those three stars leading the way, Concordia track and field coach Randy Dalzell couldn't be more pleased heading into the upcoming season.
'It's huge [to have these athletes at Concordia],' Dalzell said. 'Most programs would be lucky to have one national champion. It's pretty exciting to have three at the same time.'
Even more exciting for Dalzell is that all three are Oregon natives. Sexton, the youngest of the trio, hails from right here in Forest Grove, where she was a three-sport standout at Forest Grove High School. Despite offers to play collegiate basketball, Sexton chose instead to focus on track and field, where she had excelled at the high school level.
Now, as a college sophomore, she continues to excel at Concordia.
Sexton's resume is impressive by anyone's standards. She is the reigning NAIA national javelin champion - where she broke the stadium record at Fresno Pacific University - and she placed seventh at the U.S. National Championships last spring with a throw of 161 feet, a personal record. The U.S. National Championships featured the best women's javelin throwers from across the country, including athletes from NCAA Divisions I, II and III, NAIA, post-collegians and professionals.
What is most impressive, however, is that Sexton accomplished all these feats while only a freshman.
'To be not only the NAIA national champion as a freshman in college, but also finish seventh at the open national championships and be ranked in the Top 10 in the nation including post-collegians, speaks to the quality of Lauren's year throwing the javelin,' said Dalzell.
With so much success so early in her career, it may be difficult to understand why Sexton didn't chose a bigger, more high-profile collegiate program.
'I had lots of offers from other schools, but I wasn't set on going anywhere specific,' said Sexton. 'I wanted to stay close to home.'
By the time Sexton was ready to sign her letter of intent in July of 2005, many of the bigger schools had already given away their scholarships. Throw in her father's reverence for Concordia throwing coach Mac Wilkins, and Sexton's decision to attend Concordia makes perfect sense.
'Mac went to the same high school as my dad,' explained Sexton. '[My dad] had always looked up to him.'
Sexton credits her father, Barry, who was her high school coach, as being instrumental in her throwing career.
'My dad threw in high school and introduced me to it,' she said. 'He was my coach for four years and got me to this level.'
Although Sexton's appreciation of her father's coaching is evident, it's also clear that she enjoys her newfound freedom.
'It's a lot more independent,' she said of throwing at the college level. 'It's just different when a parent is a coach.'
Sexton wasn't always a one-sport athlete. During her time at Forest Grove High, she also played soccer and basketball, garnering much attention - and a few Division I scholarship offers - for her play on the hardwood. She decided, though, to focus on track and field in college, mostly because of the individual aspect of her sport.
'What you put in is what you get,' Sexton said. 'You know how hard you worked and you don't rely on anyone else.'
Hard work is nothing new for Sexton, whose competitive nature drives her to spend three days a week running and lifting weights, battling through nagging elbow and back injuries. Her consistent performance is a testament to that hard work.
'I'm really competitive and pretty consistent. My throws are usually all within five to 10 feet [of each other]. Not all athletes can do that,' she said.
Although modest and unassuming, even quiet and reserved by Dalzell's standards, Sexton admits that it is fun to earn national recognition for her efforts.
'It's exciting,' she said of her No. 10 ranking in last month's issue of Track and Field News. 'I can remember being a freshman in high school and thinking it was cool to see other people's names in the paper.'
Trips to the state track and field meet in high school allowed Sexton a taste of seeing her name in print. Now she doesn't have to look far to see her name in lights, as she competes at some of the most high profile meets in the country. Only in her second collegiate season, Sexton doesn't allow herself to be intimidated by older throwers or those from bigger schools.
'I've thrown at the biggest meets in the nation for a couple years now,' she said. 'You learn how to compete after you've been to a couple big meets.'
For Sexton, the key to those meets, and any others, is to stay calm.
'I get tense before meets. The biggest key is to just relax,' she said.
But even with her experience and success at big meets, Sexton still relies on the advice of her mother, Michelle, in helping with her javelin career.
'Do your best,' said Sexton, recalling that advice. 'Because then at the end of the day you can look back and know you tried your hardest.'
If Sexton continues to try her hardest, with three college seasons left, more success is almost sure to follow. No matter where her throwing career takes her, though, one thing is certain - athletics will be part of her future. The sophomore, who holds a 3.11 GPA at Concordia, is studying for a degree in Health and Fitness Management and would one day like to work at a health club.
'Working out and getting in shape is one of the best things you can do for your body,' she said.
But for now, Sexton - along with Gallaher and Halley - is giving Dalzell plenty of reason to be excited about his burgeoning program.
'I had no idea I'd be sitting here a year and a half into this program with three potential Olympians,' said Dalzell. 'The perfect ending to the story for these kids is for all three to make an Olympic team. And that's something that's not at all unreasonable.'
What a perfect ending indeed.