WINONA LAKE – Maybe Caleb Smith was on to something. Stating earlier in the week that Grace College sophomore teammate Tommy Hickerson comes from ‘good genes’, Smith joked Hickerson’s denial of being cut from good stock was laughable.
Well, turns out, Smith was right.
Hickerson became Grace’s first 2018 NCCAA National Champion Thursday, winning the men’s javelin competition at the NCCAA Track & Field National Championships at Grace College. Hickerson’s fourth throw traveled 49.55 meters, and the Warsaw native had to sweat out three more rounds to claim his first individual championship.
“It was very exciting to end the season on this note,” Hickerson said, who is the youngest of four Hickerson kids, all of which have competed collegiately in athletics. “At conference, I was seeded first and just could not put anything decent together. So getting to end on this note and throw consistent 48s and 49s, it’s very reassuring that I can confidently start chucking them out there. I’ve only practiced for one full year. I’m looking forward to continue training and add a lot more distance if I can stay healthy.”
Hickerson came in as the No. 2 seed in the javelin, sitting behind York’s Jaraad Salas, who had the overwhelmingly top distance to beat of 57.72 meters to just 50.91 for Hickerson. But with a stiff crosswind whistling across the Key Track Complex, sometimes blowing left to right, and other times pushing right back into the faces of the throwers, it was anyone’s guess who would catch a break.
Hickerson would only throw 44.10 in his final attempt while Salas had pushed a pair of 48s in his first two attempts, but nothing close in his next four. Hickerson, who threw in the second position in the heat, looked on as Salas, who was the third-to-last to go, fouled on his final attempt. Salas’ teammate, Ross Frame, also fouled on his final attempt, leaving Hickerson as the javelin champion.
“Obviously I have a little bit of an advantage of throwing here every day, so I know how to work in this wind, which does this all the time,” Hickerson said. “I guess you could call it resistance training. I’m just used to it. I just tried to keep good form and get one under the wind, and I did.”
Hickerson becomes the first track National Champion for Grace since 2010 and only the sixth individual to ever accomplish the feat. Thursday’s win was the third medalist honor for Hickerson of the season, also winning javelin at the Lancer Invite and Huntington Invite earlier in the year. Hickerson’s personal best in the event was set at the Lancer Invite. He was fourth at the Crossroads League Championships.
“Salas is a very explosive guy and he’s super talented,” Hickerson said. “IT looked like he was struggling a little bit early. And his last one, he really got a hold of it, but had to be ultra frustrating stepping over the line and having to scratch it. I was just comfortable today, I knew my steps and just trusted my mechanics and my technique.”
The aforementioned Smith was among a handful of Lancers to also compete Thursday in Day One of the Championships. Smith and teammate Will Shafer were among the discus throwers, finishing 12th and 11th, respectively. Brooke Treadway was seventh in the women’s discus at 36.22 meters. Emily Anderson just missed the podium and All-American honors, taking fourth at 33.58 meters in the women’s javelin.
Elsewhere for the Lancers, Karla Singer ended up fifth in the NCCAA in the 10,000-meter race when she crossed the finish line in 41:46.52 while the men’s 4×800 relay team of Brady Willard, Jonathan Balda, Brendan Hamilton and Sam Hall picked up a fourth-place finish in a time of 7:54.12.
Isaiah Zeller placed seventh in the nation in the pole vault when he cleared 13-9.35.
Suzi Sickafoose and Quinn Shelton both competed in the 400-meter dash preliminaries, taking 12th and 15th places. Additionally, Martin Schiele won his prelim leg of the 200 race and qualified for Friday’s final race, and he also advanced to the finals of the 100 dash.
The championships will conclude on Friday with events running from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.