Calvin throwers rewrite the record books
Walk up to the discus cage at a Calvin track and field competition and you'll hear the noise.
A grunt, a groan, a mumble a murmur and maybe even a shout. It's all part of the psychological tactics used by the Calvin throwers in an attempt to focus on throwing the discus farther.
In 1998, the Calvin men's throwing team had plenty of reason to make a lot of noise as it sent a fall-out assault on the Calvin record-book like never before.
Consider this: up until this year, no discus thrower had ever surpassed the 150-2 mark set by Rudy Vlaardingerbroek in 1969. In 1998, that mark was bested 22 times by three individuals with the new school standard stretched to 164-11. In the shot put, the previous record had stood at 52-4 1/2, set by Calvin throwing coach Norm Zylstra in 1988. In 1998, the record was beaten over 20 times and lengthened to an incredible 55-7. Both records were set by Calvin junior Steve Michmerhuizen, of Zeeland. Michmerhuizen was a part of an incredible trio of throwers this spring that also included junior Nate Kuipers, of Gainsville, N.Y., and sophomore Bryan Mayhew, of Richland, Mich.
The records began to fall at an early-season invitational hosted by Aquinas at Houseman Field. Michmerhuizen started the record-breaking with a heave of 54-3 3/4 in the shot put to shatter Zylstra's school-record by more than two feet. Michmerhuizen's best throw in the shot heading into the 1998 campaign had been 50-11 ½. Kuipers then stepped up to the plate in the discus competition and unleashed a throw of 152-7 to break Vlaardingerbroek's 29-year old record by more than two feet.
The record-breaking had just begun.
Three weeks later at a double-dual meet with Adrian and Albion, Kuipers whipped out a throw of 153-7 to better his previous best by a foot. Although Michmerhuizen did not break a record that day, he turned in one of the most memorable shot put performances in MIAA history as he popped out six throws, with his best throw at 54-3 ½ and his shortest throw at 52-2, recording the best series of throws in school or league history.
At the MIAA Championships, Michmerhuizen captured first place in the shot put and discus, recording an MIAA-record throw of 54-3 in the shot put as he was named the MIAA's co-MVP, joining Vlaardingerbroek as the only throwers in Calvin history to earn MIAA MVP accolades in track and field. Mayhew added a second place in the discus while Kuipers was third as the trio finished the season by sweeping the top three spots in the discus in every MIAA competition they competed in this spring.
The following week at an invitational hosted by Western Michigan University, Kuipers and Mayhew took turns in owning the school-record in the discus. Mayhew began with a school-record throw of 157-3, shattering Kuiper's previous record by nearly four feet. Mayhew's personal best in the discus heading into the 1998 season had been 127-3. Mayhew's record stood for all of four minutes as Kuipers hurled out a throw of 157-8 to take the record up another five inches.
Michmerhuizen then took his turn in the discus at the Paddock Invitational hosted by the University of Michigan a week later, ripping off an NCAA III automatic qualifying throw of 164-11 in the discus to shatter Kuiper's record by seven feet. His previous best in the discus had been 143-5 heading into the 1998 season. Before the discus competition, Michmerhuizen had uncorked a throw of 55-7 in the shot put to win the event. His throw of 55-7 ended up as the top throw in Division III this spring. At the NCAA III Track and Field Championships at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, Michmerhuizen placed eighth in the shot put and discus to earn All-America honors in both events.
"What Steve, Nate and Bryan accomplished this spring is unheard of," said Zylstra an All-American in the shot put in 1988.. "Normally a 7-10 foot improvement for a discus thrower is excellent. This group improved by 20-30 feet while Steve added another five feet to his best in the shot put. How they improved as much as they did in some ways is a mystery to me."
Perhaps the answer to the mystery lies in the off-season conditioning program that focuses on plyometrics, a system that focuses on improving quickness, flexibility and explosiveness in the muscles of the throwers. The program involves jumping, running and drills with a medicine ball in addition to weight room work. The system was instituted by former assistant coach and Calvin athlete Brett Otte who is now the head track and field coach at Geneva College.
"The success of the throwing program really starts with Brett Otte," said Zylstra. "He instituted a system that emphasized active warmup and flexibility. The program makes the athletes more athletic and powerful instead of just big."
Another factor is the team camaraderie among the threesome. "We drive each other every day in practice and at meets," said Kuipers. "We really want to see each other succeed." One of the ways the trio helps each other excel is by coaching each other. "All three of us have our strengths and weaknesses," said Michmerhuizen. "We all help each other by pointing things out that we can improve on in our technique and throwing form."
With his throw of 157-8, Kuipers finished one spot out of a trip to nationals in the discus. Nevertheless, he helped spearhead a group trip to the national meet to help cheer Michmerhuizen on. During his shot put and discus competitions, Michmerhuizen had a crowd of nearly 30 people stand and cheer for him when he entered the throwing ring. "The cheering section was great. I did not expect it," said Michmerhuizen. "The whole team environment at Calvin is really terrific. We had distance runners and sprinters there to cheer us on this year. That is what makes the Calvin track and field program a special one."
Zylstra is joined as a throwing coach by three-time Calvin All-American javelin thrower Steve Seth. Seth helps coordinate the fitness section of the plyometrics program. "We owe a lot to Norm and we owe a lot to Steve and Brett's program," said Kuipers. "Norm and Steve have a way of making you like to do the work. We really trust them and their instructions."
Zylstra also credits the spiritual atmosphere fostered by former men's head coach Ralph Honderd who retired last spring as a key to the program. "Coach Honderd was able to set the spiritual tone for this group when he was coach which has really helped them put their priorities together," said Zylstra. "Whether they have success or disappointment, they view athletics in its proper perspective which is very important."
As for next year, Kuipers, Mayhew and Michmerhuizen are already hard at work in an off-season conditioning program in preparation. "They are starting a tradition of training year-round which an athlete needs to do if they want to be excellent," said Zylstra. "Athletes don't have to train year-round to be a part of our track program by any means but if they want to be excellent, hopefully they will buy into the commitment that this group has and emulate their work habits."
Mayhew also competes in the javelin while Kuipers is the school-record holder in the hammer throw. The event they share however is the discus and Kuipers has a dream for next year. "We all want to qualify automatically for nationals in the discus," said Kuipers. "It would be awesome to see all three of us there next year and if all three of us could be All-Americans, well, that would be one of the coolest things I could imagine."