Jamie Slyder turned her back on her goal Thursday morning. She cradled an 8.8-pound shot put in both hands and, with a sigh, heaved it backward over her head.
Practice had begun for the University of Montana record holder.
On a glorious April morning, the red-haired junior from Broadview who counts among recent milestones her engagement to UM graduate student Pierre LeMieux, turned to face her work. Her next order of business is Saturday's Montana-Montana State dual, in which she'll be throwing from the same ring at Dornblaser Field against Bobcat ace Jennifer Allen.
Practice put after practice put lumbered out in the 45-foot neighborhood. Each one met with a suggested adjustment from Brian Schweyen, coach of UM throwers and jumpers.
"Things are finally starting to get clear," Slyder said during a break. "The last couple weeks of indoor (season) and up until now, things are starting to make sense. Brian will tell me what to do, and I'm finally able to actually do it."
In the past two months Slyder has gone from a promising putter in the Big Sky Conference to a genuine contender. In the past two weeks she's launched a pair of winning throws 47 feet, 31/2 inches in Bozeman and 47-3 in Cheney, Wash. that have her knocking on the door of the Big Sky's all-time top 10 list.
Until Jan. 28, no one in school history had topped 45 feet. Slyder, who broke Kim Sorkness' school record a year ago next Monday, marked 45-3 at an indoor meet in Bozeman.
At the Big Sky indoor championships in late February, she added 18 inches to that with a 46-9 toss, good for second place behind Linda Nestorsson of Northern Arizona. Only one other UM shot putter has finished as high at a conference championship since Butte's Gene Popovich won the outdoor men's title in 1978. Larri Jo Christensen of Plains was second indoors for the Lady Griz in 1994.
Besides her 47-3 throw last Friday in Cheney, Slyder had another of 46-9 and two more of over 45 feet.
"She's just steadily getting better every week," said Schweyen, who thinks Slyder's ready to make a leap in discus from the mid-140's to 160 feet as well. "I think she's just starting to understand and figure out the things we've been working on the last couple of years."
A key this winter and spring has been a pain-free existence. Slyder underwent major knee surgery early in her senior year in high school, missing the last season of a stellar prep basketball career. The knee has been a source of discomfort at times in college.
"My last couple of years I thought I wanted to do the heptathlon, so I was training for that," Slyder said. "I was always hurt, it seemed like. This year I've just been able to concentrate on the throws and spend more time on those."
She's not a prototypical shot putter. Tall and rangy, Slyder also loves to run. At Broadview, a Class C school north of Billings, she holds school records in the 100- and 200-meter dashes (12.9 and 27.0 seconds).
"Oh, this gal, she's pretty much the all-around athlete," said Sorkness, who went into teaching and coaching after her career at UM and wound up at go figure Broadview for Slyder's senior year.
"She's also got the basketball scoring record here," Sorkness said. "She was unbelievable. You could put her anywhere. She could hit threes and the turnaround jumper in the post. She was probably the most versatile player I've seen in high school.
"She was very capable of playing basketball for the Lady Griz. Her knee was what really messed that up."
Slyder doesn't think she's Broadview's scoring leader, but she did allow she's on top-10 lists in several basketball categories. As for the sprint records: "It's a real small school," she said.
Her prep throwing accomplishments are a matter of general record. As a freshman in 1994, she placed second at state in both shot put and discus behind Cascade's Gina Cotton, who went on to star at MSU.
Slyder won state titles in both the shot and discus as a sophomore, junior and senior. As a final hurrah, she set the Class C shot put mark of 43-113/4 the best throw in Montana in 1997.
Slyder said she was flattered to learn Montana State had its eye on her since eighth grade.
"That was a compliment, but I don't know … I've just always liked Missoula better, the campus and the town. I think Bozeman's a great school, and they have a good track program, but I just always wanted to come here," she said.
Sorkness may have played a part in it.
"MSU wanted her so bad, and I told her, 'Don't you dare go there,' " the Broadview coach said. "I think (former Grizzly assistant) Mike Ramos was the most technical coach I've ever been around, and Brian Schweyen was there too. They're both such wonderful, encouraging coaches. Plus I think Jamie was so much like me, wanting to meet people and do things, and UM was just starting to build its track program."
Slyder needs to add nearly two feet to her shot put record, to 49-21/2, to qualify provisionally for the NCAA meet in North Carolina. That's her immediate goal, but Schweyen is confident she can be a 50-foot thrower putter.
Nothing will replace the sensation of popping a big one.
"It feels easy," Slyder said. "You don't really feel anything. When I throw in the low 40s I feel like I'm just putting everything I've got into it and it doesn't go anywhere. When you get your technique together and everything's working for you, you don't feel like you're putting any effort into it. It just sails."
In college, the women's shot put is the same weight as in high school, so her progress is easy to track.
Shot put marks and finishes for Jamie Slyder at Broadview High School and the University of Montana. Shot puts used in high school and college weigh the same for women (4 kilos or 8.8 pounds)
|1994||39-5||Second in Class C|
|1995||41-23/4||Class C champion|
|1996||42-1||Class C champion|
|1997||43-113/4*||Class C champion|
|U. Of Montana|
|1998||45-0 indoor||Did not place|
|42-7 outdoor||Did not place|
|1999||43-53/4 indoor||Did not place|
|44-9 outdoor||6th at Big Sky Championships|
|2000||46-9 indoor**||2nd at Big Sky Championships|
|47-3 1/2**||Ranks 2nd in Big Sky|
* School and Class C record, ** School record