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For better or worse, Stephanie Wells is an expert at minimizing expectations.

"I absolutely have zero chance," the junior Montana thrower said to her coach two weeks ago in Austin, Texas.

Her javelin had just soared 152 feet, 7 inches at the NCAA West Regional track and field meet, good for fourth place. But a third and final flight of the top 16 athletes in the West was still to go.

Only 12 would advance to nationals.

"I think you're in," responded Brian Schweyen, director of the Grizzlies' track and field program.

"There's no way I'm in. It's OK, just don't get my hopes up," she answered defiantly.

From the stands where she watched with her boyfriend and his family, Wells saw the best do their thing – and her placing continue to drop.

Fifth. Eighth. Eleventh.

As the second-to-last thrower's final toss came off askew, landing well short at 138 feet, Wells finally started warming up to Schweyen's point of view.

"Wow, this might actually happen," she thought.

Wells is headed to the NCAA outdoor track and field championships in Eugene, Oregon this week after a 12th-place regional finish. It's the Grizzlies' first national javelin qualifier since Dane Brubaker in 2005 and Wells' first trip after missing out by one place and little more than a foot a year ago.

The NCAA championships begin Wednesday with javelin on the schedule Thursday evening.

***

Stephanie Wells remembers her last trip to Hayward Field, the groomed and glorious home of the Oregon Ducks in Track Town USA.

She actually made three there to compete at state while in high school in Silverton, a town of 9,000 just off Oregon's population-heavy I-5 corridor that runs the length of the state, north to south. She grew up less than 80 miles north of Eugene.

She'd been there enough that the familiarity with the field, which regularly hosts the United States' Olympic trials, numbed her to any other facility.

"When I came here to visit I was like, 'Where is the real track? Is this the practice facility?’ ” she recalled of naively visiting Montana's Dornblaser Field. "I kinda took Hayward for granted."

She scored a silver at Hayward in 2012 in her last prep competition, the Class 5A state meet. Success at Montana has been a bit harder to find, though.

Wells said she feels like she under-performs at Big Sky Conference championship meets, which may be true. Despite finishing fourth in this year's conference field, no other javelin thrower reached the national stage.

Typically, the bigger meets find a way to burrow in her head.

"I think I tighten up and forget about everything I have been working on," she said. "Then it's just me hucking it as far as I can and it doesn't go as far as it should."

She's hardly alone there, Schweyen said. In his eight years as Montana's program director, Schweyen has coached hundreds of young Grizzlies and each must be approached uniquely, he said. A coach must climb inside his athlete's head, identifying their fears, goals and individual drive.

"It's kind of an unknown in a sense," he said. "You've got to figure out what makes them tick.

"You always try to work the mental more than anything because the mental by far is the most important aspect of being a great athlete. You have to believe it before you can achieve it."

***

Perhaps the regional's outcome may prove the turning point for Wells.

Her final throw topped the 152-6 of Iowa freshman Kayla Hochhalter by the smallest of margins as she advanced by an inch.

One inch, an amount hardly worth keeping track of, Wells had thought.

"It's funny, all year long in the meets we competed, inches don't matter to me," she said. "I couldn't tell you one throw what my inches were all year.

"That stuff really does matter, not that I ever thought it would, but it does."

Wells' season suffered from a shortage of confidence prior to the regional meet. If there's one thing she hopes to carry to national stage, it's that.

"At regionals, I competed in a different way," she explained. "My last throw, I just dropped the adrenaline and completely relaxed."

Schweyen could see the results, too. He spent all of last week hammering the subject during their one-on-one training time (Wells is the lone Griz athlete competing at nationals).

"If Stephanie goes to the national meet more confident than she's ever been and allows herself to be relaxed and let the throws happen ... I think she's gonna have the meet of her life," he said.

She will likely need one to make much noise in Eugene. Wells is seeded 24th of 24 national qualifiers ahead of Thursday's women's javelin competition.

Perhaps, but her mind won't get in the way this time.

"It's beautiful," Wells said of the pristine Hayward Field, "but it can be kind of intimidating for everybody else. To me, it's home."

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