Ester Mellado didn’t come to Belmont to throw the javelin. No, the chance to play Division I volleyball was what drew her to the Music City.
And despite her track background, Brittany Duerk wasn’t recruited by Lipscomb to compete on the track. Instead, the Bisons wanted her 6-foot frame on the basketball court.
Yet, here are the two Atlantic Sun and crosstown rivals, dabbling in a second sport – a sport that not anyone can just pick up and do. But that’s exactly what Mellado and Duerk have done.
Heading into this weekend’s Atlantic Sun Championships in Jacksonville, Fla., both are expected to be near the top in the javelin event.
“Javelin is pretty unique,” Duerk, a sophomore, said. “I feel like it’s something that if I hadn’t done it in high school there is no way I would have come out and tried it in college.”
Love at first toss
Duerk has been on the track since the sixth grade. In the eighth grade she competed in the heptathlon and one of the events was javelin – “I just fell in love with it,” she said.
She kept with the sport while at Auburn High School in Auburn, Ala. But when college rolled around, her focus turned to basketball and she received a scholarship to play at Lipscomb.
However, after her freshman year, the itch to chuck the javelin came back. One of her hoops teammates had competed on the track the year before, and that got Duerk thinking. Both coaching staffs gave her the green light and the results have been incredible.
She enters the weekend with the conference’s best heave. Her mark of 134 feet, three inches at the Vanderbilt Invitational on April 17 set a school record as she beat teammate Taylor Mason by nearly seven feet and finished first.
“I wanted to do it if I was going to be decent at it and have a chance to place in conference,” Duerk, whose mother, Janet, was a high jumper at Auburn University, said. “But I had no idea that I would be towards the top.”
Though it is a little unexpected that Duerk, a basketball player first, is in good shape to capture a conference championship, it is not completely surprising. Before college she had been throwing the javelin for five years and knew the ins and outs of the sport.
A family affair
Mellado, on the other hand, was a rookie in every sense of the word when it came to the javelin.
She had run the 400 meters in eighth grade while back in Chicago but that was the extent of her track experience. Her specialties were softball and volleyball, with the latter receiving most of her attention as she is a 5-foot-7 setter/defensive specialist for the Bruins.
So hitting the track in college wasn’t on Mellado’s mind until her strength and conditioning coach Josh McMillian told her last spring that she had the body of a thrower. He urged her to toss the nearly seven-foot long spear and
she finally did.
“I threw the javelin one time and he goes ‘Well you just threw third in conference,’” Mellado said. “I was like ‘Oh, wow. That’s kind of cool.’”
Her athletic genes didn’t fail her.
Though she never had thrown the javelin, it obviously didn’t hurt that her father, Jim, competed in decathlon in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. So she went to him last summer for tips, threw the javelin around a few more times and decided she wanted to give it a shot.
Like Duerk, she got the blessing of her volleyball coaching staff and started throwing in March.
Two months later, she is less than three feet from breaking the school record of 115 feet.
She also had her best day at the Vanderbilt Invitational (just like Duerk), where she finished third with a toss of 112-11.
“I never actually thought that I would be any kind of competitive,” Mellado, a junior who plans on throwing the javelin for at least one more year, said. “Just the fact that the coaches invited me to come to conference means they think I’ll have a chance at scoring points for them. I felt very appreciated. When they told me, I was kind of shocked. I have been very surprised with how well I have done.”
Both athletes say their success can be traced to good technique and good coaching.
Volunteer assistant coach Kyle Willoughby, who threw at the University of Alabama, has guided Duerk. She said through him she has learned there is a lot more technique involved than she ever knew.
The biggest tweak that has improved her throws is that at the end of her seven-step run before she releases the spear, she sticks her last step, puts her heel down first, drags her other foot behind her and keeps her body back so she gets “the most torque going into the throw.”
“That’s the biggest thing that I had no idea about doing,” Duerk, who
will also be back to toss the javelin next year, said. “It has made my throws go up 20 feet just this year.”
Mellado has turned to her father for advice, along with her boyfriend, Matt Fiedler, who is a decathlete at Belmont. She agrees that technique plays a big role in the success and it isn’t just all in the arms.
“Your body acts as a catapult to shoot the spear out,” Mellado said. “When you are able to use all your body strength, not just necessarily your arm strength, it is like a slingshot. It is all about your core and being able to control that.”
With that combination of natural athletic ability, good genes and overall body strength, as both continue to master the technique of throwing the javelin, they both could continue to be threats in the conference.
This isn’t just a hobby anymore, if it ever was at all.
“I wanted to be competitive at it,” Duerk said. “I wasn’t just going to go into it to goof around. It was something I wanted to be competitive at and get better at every day. I definitely dreamed about it (being at the top in the conference). I thought it would be awesome if I could get up there but I didn’t think it would actually happen.”