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Mason's Wallerstedt Finishes 15th at NCAA Championships to Earn All-American Accolades

Release: 06/11/2017
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Courtesy: Associated Press
Final Results

EUGENE, Ore. – A unsuccessful toss or foul on her first discus throw might have derailed Michelle Wallerstedt earlier in her career. In her final collegiate performance, however, the George Mason senior wasn't about to let it define her on the biggest stage.

Wallerstedt bounced back after a foul to place 15th in the discus at NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships on Saturday at historic Hayward Field. Though she wasn't able to advance to the nine-thrower final, Wallerstedt earns her Second Team All-American honors from the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

The redshirt senior from Omaha, Neb., fouled on her first toss of the night. But Wallerstedt, who holds the school record and Atlantic 10 Conference record in the discus, regrouped and surpassed 50 meters on her second throw. She then unleashed a heave of 53.41 meters (175 feet, 2 inches) for the fourth longest throw of her career.

"For her first time at nationals, you figure, 'OK, that's ripe territory to possibly panic (with a bad first throw).' But she didn't," George Mason head coach Andrew Gerard said. "For her to pull it back together and do what she did, I don't think she would have done that two or three years ago. She really pulled it out and threw 53. Certainly a credible finish for a newbie who was out here for the first time."

Wallerstedt qualified for the NCAA Championships two weeks ago when she finished fourth in the East Preliminary with a mammoth toss of 55.16 meters (181 feet) that broke her school and conference records.

After having reached the East Preliminary two times before and coming up short of qualifying for nationals, Wallerstedt soaked in the experience of competing in her first NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship on Saturday. Unlike many meets where the throws are often held outside the stadium or tucked away in the corner, the discus ring was located in the infield – front and center.

"It was awesome," she said. "The crowd was fabulous. You're ushered out and everyone is cheering. They introduce you and you're in the big spotlight. We were on the infield so we got to experience everything. It was just an amazing atmosphere and so happy I was allowed to experience it."

Describing the discus ring at Hayward Field as "fast," Wallerstedt said she was cautious of slipping on the slicker surface during her first throw. Thus, she didn't believe she put "my all of it into it" as the throw veered to the right and out of bounds.

Two years ago at the NCAA East Preliminary, a foul on her first throw stuck with her and proved to be a mental hurdle she couldn't overcome in her next two throws to qualify for nationals. This time, at the national meet, she shook off the bad start. Her second throw, though still not as far as she would have liked, stayed straight and went 50.19 meters to get her in the groove.

Then her third and final throw flew 53.41 meters catapulted her four spots to 15th, earning Second Team All-American honors by finishing in the top 16.

"Up until this year, it was such a crutch or debilitating thing if I had a foul on my first throw," she said. "I'm so happy that even at the biggest stage knowing that I would have to perform at my best or close to it to go further, being able to come back and taking the full three throws was really, really pleasing and will help me going forward."

Added throws coach Rebecca Hartley: "I think she has really matured as an athlete. To have all those bright lights shining on you and a little bit of rain happening and then have a first foul, it is a testimony to the growth she has had over the last couple years that she was able to come back and really pull together a fine throw to finish off her college career."

Before this season, no women's discus thrower in school history had eclipsed 53 meters. Wallerstedt did it five times this spring. Her season began with breaking the previous school record of 52.78 meters set by Tamika Powell in 1996 when she hurled the discus 53.55 meters at the Miami Hurricane Invitational in March. It ended on Saturday when she became the first discus thrower to earn All-American honors since Hartley took over as throws coach in 2004.

In between, Wallerstedt recorded first-place finishes at eight meets this season, including capturing the Atlantic 10 and ECAC crowns. She also compiled the best season of her career despite coming off knee surgery in December, throwing with a shoulder injury that will require surgery in the next couple of months and winning her second A-10 title while battling a stomach bug.

"Being able to face adversity was nice in that it was just a nice little cherry on top," she said of her All-American status. "Because, yes, I didn't get to the podium but Second Team All-American is still pretty decent. Even at the beginning of this year, right before the start of outdoors if you would have told me I was going to make nationals and be Second Team All-American I wouldn't have believed you. So I was really happy that I was able to finish the way I did."

Her performance on Saturday wraps up one of the most decorated careers in program history.

She not only holds the school and conference record in the discus but she also ranks in the top 10 in the Mason record books in the hammer throw, weight throw and indoor shot put. Her resume also includes two Atlantic 10 championships and three medals, two ECAC Championships medals (one gold), 13 collegiate victories and 30 finishes in the top five.

"She is a great representative of Mason and a fabulous athlete," Hartley said. "It has been a real privilege working with her. She has such an intense work ethic that, in combination with her talent, has led her to succeed at what she loves to do. It is really great to see her perform on the national stage. The fact that her last throw was her best throw (of the day) demonstrates the kind of tenacity she brings to everything she puts her hand to."

Outside of track, Wallerstedt has also pieced together an impressive collegiate career in the classroom and in the campus community. Earlier this month, she received the Susan A. Collins Leadership Award for Women in Sport given to the student-athlete who best exemplifies the leadership qualities set by Collins, who dedicated more than 34 years at George Mason before retiring last year.

She also has been on the A-10 Commissioner's Honor Roll six times, served as the president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) in addition to the Athletic Council and working as a student liaison for the student government. Just last week, she received one of the Atlantic 10's Postgraduate Scholarships.

Just a few weeks ago, she received her bachelor's degree in integrative studies with a concentration in pre-physical therapy. In the near future, she plans to meet with a doctor and look into undergoing surgery for a partially torn labrum in her shoulder that was initially injured at the end of the 2015 season. She expects a recovery time of three to four months.

In August, she'll head down to Clemson, S.C., where she'll begin graduate school in January while also also starting her pursuit of a professional throwing career. She'll work with Clemson throws coach Robert Weir, a three-time Olympian who also coached Wallerstedt's sister, Michaela, at Stanford when Gerard was an assistant there. She is aiming to participate in the 2021 World Championships for Team USA.

"These past five years have been the best of my life and I couldn't imagine a better place to be than Mason," she said. "Mason made it a great experience. I was just happy I could represent Mason in such good light because they've really given so much to me. Coach Becky, I couldn't imagine the past five years without her. She is amazing and I appreciate her. All the other coaches and administrators and everyone that works at Mason have been so awesome. They've made it a great five years for me."
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