Trio of MSU throwers headed to NCAA West Regional


For Zach Sharp, a trip to the Heartland is affirmation for a senior season filled with salvation. For Tanner Gambill, a trip to Lawrence, Kansas provides one last chance to pop the throw the Forsyth native knows is stored up in his right arm.

The Montana State senior throwers along with sophomore discus thrower Kyle Douglass will compete on their biggest stage of the 2016 outdoor track and field season at the NCAA West Regional Track and Field Championships beginning on Wednesday at the University of Kansas.

Sharp, a Billings West product who has reached new heights in his final season, will begin the regional with the hammer throw at noon on Thursday. During the indoor season, Sharp just missed the podium, scratching on the final weight throw of his career to finish fourth at the Big Sky Conference Indoor Championships. He was visibly upset after the scratch at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in Bozeman.

MSU thrower Zach Sharp

MSU senior thrower Zach Sharp/by Kelly Groham

Sharp rebounded this spring in the hammer throw, helping Montana State continue its long legacy of regional qualifiers in the event. Sharp’s season-best throw of 61.15 meters (200 feet, seven inches) earned him second place at the Big Sky Conference Outdoor Championships in Greeley, Colorado. The mark is the 35th-best in the West Region. The top 48 athletes in each event qualify for the regional meet.

“It was a heartbreaker for me in indoor,” Sharp said. “I was shooting for the podium. It pushed me harder to come out harder for outdoor. I’m up to eighth on our all-time list. Not many people get that 200 (foot) mark so I’ve been very happy to get that.

“I’m not worried too much (about the regional). Me and Calvin (Root) competing against each other all season has me ready. We are a team but we are always competing against each other. If you ever watch a meet, we are on different sides. I’m just thinking about throwing against myself and doing the best I can. I’m not worried about how other people are doing. It’s all in my mind. That’s one thing I’ve been coached since high school: it’s all about me and what I can do. I’m the only one in the ring.”

Gambill, a fifth-year senior from Forsyth, has qualified for the regional meet each of the last two seasons. As a sophomore, he placed second in the Big Sky but faltered at the regional, placing 38th. Last season, Gambill popped a career-best 223-foot, eight-inch throw to win the Big Sky title. His performance at the regional was “mediocre” in his eyes as he placed 16th.

Gambill’s season-best throw is 64.52 meters (211-08), good enough for second at the Big Sky meet and 39th in the region. But he feels he has much more strength left in his arm. A throw equaling his career best would be among the top 20 throws in the West. Now he will have one last chance to finish his career with a flurry as the top 12 placers in each event will advance to the national championship meet in Eugene, Oregon. The men’s javelin final begins Friday at noon.

“I came here last year and the year before and I haven’t been throwing as well this year so to make it to regionals again means a lot,” Gambill said. “We don’t throw a whole lot in season. We get the big practices in meets. I’ve had four meets I’ve competed in and I haven’t popped my best one yet.

“If I hit it, I can compete.”

Montana State has a long lineage of standout throwers, from former Olympian Lance Deal to school record holders like Dennis Black (shot put, 1994), Ryan Mizner (javelin, 1997) and most recently, hammer record holder David Phillips (213-02 in 2013). The common factor has been Mike Carignan, MSU’s throws coach since 1977. Under his instruction Montana State has perennially scored the most points in the Big Sky in the throws. The Bobcats have produced 50 individual champions in the throws through Carignan’s teachings.

MSU sophomore thrower Kyle Douglass earlier this year during the Montana Open/by Brooks Nuanez

MSU sophomore thrower Kyle Douglass earlier this year during the Montana Open/by Brooks Nuanez

This year is yet another addition to Carignan’s impressive resume as three of the four Bobcats advancing to the NCAA regional — Kaylee Schmitz is going in the 800 meters — have been under Carignan’s tutelage.

Perhaps more than any other discipline in sports, the necessity of repetition and technique is the key to becoming an elite thrower. Carignan says most of his athletes share similar personality characteristics.

“There’s a certain type of person drawn to throwing,” Carignan said. “No one else can hold them back or decide for them whether they are good enough to compete. It’s all there on the tape measurer. They are usually people who are super self motivated.”

Sharp and Douglass each have had high-level competition to motivate them since the winter, Sharp throwing the weight and Douglass adding the shot put indoors. Gambill and fellow standout Ty Bermes — a sophomore from Joliet who finished second in the Big Sky and advanced to the regionals in the javelin last spring — must sit out all winter, trying to hone their technique despite having no meets to compete in.

Bermes popped a throw of 216 feet, nine inches at the Montana State Open to open the 2016 outdoor campaign. The mark would’ve served as the third-best in the Big Sky and would’ve qualified Bermes for regionals for a second straight year. But he threw out his elbow two weeks later and was forced to take a medical redshirt.

“The fact that you run down the runway at a pretty good speed and then slam on the breaks, that’s pretty intimidating for any athlete,” Carignan said earlier this spring. “The event is about how fast you stop, not how fast you go. There’s really no other event like that. Then you have to pull the javelin through a point and if you are off a little bit, you are going to get injured so you have to stay focused year round.

“You don’t want to get macho about it. You always want to think about injury prevention, joint preparation. It’s a long, gradual process.”

Now that preparation comes to a head for Gambill in the last competition of his collegiate career.

“I hope this is the year,” Gambill said.

Montana State sophomore thrower Kyle Douglass during the 2016 Cat-Griz duel/by Dean Hendrickson

Montana State sophomore thrower Kyle Douglass during the 2016 Cat-Griz duel/by Dean Hendrickson

Douglass, a Missoula Sentinel product, has had a redemptive outdoor season himself. After holding the top mark in the Big Sky in the shot put for most of the indoor season, Douglass struggled on his home floor during the conference championships and missed the podium. He has rebounded, particularly in the discus, the event he says comes most naturally to him.

“He has a little more room to work in the disc ring,” Carignan said. “The circle is one foot, two inches larger in diameter so that means he can drive across the ring with more momentum than he can in the shot put. The best asset he has is a 6-foot-8 arm span. That arm span is not a big asset in the shot put. It’s just a longer lever you have to extend. But it’s a big asset in the discus. I think that’s why he’s enjoyed throwing it more.”

Douglass is the highest seed among the trio of MSU throwers entering the weekend. His season-best throw of 55.64m (182-06) is the 26th-best in the West. A throw of more than 190 feet could vault Douglass into the top 10. The men’s discus final begins at 4 p.m. on Friday.

“I’m just going to go in and try to have some fun,” Douglass said. “If I worry about it, I won’t have much flexibility. If I go out there and have fun, that means I’m going to throw far.

“I definitely hope to gain some knowledge of how regionals go and how to apply it over the next couple of years.”

Photo attribution noted. All Rights Reserved.

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

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