ALLENDALE, Mich. - Over the last several months, Zac Ball has had a constant companion. That's not his roomie, it's an intruder called pain.
An abdominal injury, which Ball will have surgery to repair next week, has left him in a weakened state. That didn't prevent Ball from putting a hurtin' on the very best hammer throwers in NCAA Division II.
Thursday (May 22), on the opening day of the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Grand Valley State, Ball finished third in the hammer. His best mark was 204-7. That comes on the heels of a second place finish in the weight throw at indoor nationals in March.
"It's Eagle Pride," replied AU head coach Jud Logan, when asked how Ball was able to persevere and prosper. "It was painful for him every throw. But that's what you do when you're an upperclassman who's been here before. He was no where near his best and he finished third in the country. That's pretty good."
"I haven't been 100 percent for two months, not even 80 percent," admitted Ball. "We had to figure out a way to train throught that. We had to see how much I'd have in the tank today. Second indoors, third outdoors, I never expected that."
The Eagles claimed five All-America honors in the hammer on Thursday. In addition to Ball, freshman Bryn Campbell was fifth. His best throw was 204-7.
"Kudos to Bryn Campbell, this was his first national championship meet," reminded Logan.
Findlay's Justin Welch, the 2014 indoor champ in the weight throw, won the hammer at 229-1. Grand Valley State's Darien Thornton was the runner-up at 216-3.
"We want to do what the women did, which is get them all to the finals," said Logan. These three will be back next year."
Speaking of the AU women, they picked up three All-America citations in the hammer. Cynthia Watt was second (199-7), Kim Habegger was fourth (198-7) and Jessica Bridenthal was eighth (183-1). The top seed, Heavin Warner of Central Missouri, won the national championship with a throw of 207-0.
"I'm just elated," gushed Logan. "I've never had three girls finish as All-Americans in the hammer. Even when I had Adriane (Blewitt) and Jackie (Jeschelnig), I never had someone else to go with them."
Bridenthal had a nerve-wracking afternoon. She barely made it into the finals. Then, she was in the top eight, out of the top eight and finally in the top eight for good.
"This is the first time she's been an All-American in the hammer," explained Logan. "She's a national champion in the weight throw, but this is a first for her."
Watt and Habegger were consistent throughout the competition. For Habegger, this was a bit of redemption. She came to this meet a year ago ranked as one of the top hammer throwers in the country but didn't place.
"She was so disappointed last year," said Logan. "Today she hit her lifetime best."
The throwers weren't the only AU athletes to enjoy big days.
Senior Macy Caldwell heads into Friday in second place in the heptathlon. She has 3261 points. The leader is Central Missouri's Madison Smith with 3284 points.
On Thursday, Caldwell competed in the 100 hurdles, high jump, shot put and 200. Friday she will be in the long jump, javelin and 800.
Brian Baum was second in the preliminaries of the 1500. His time was 3:51.55. The only runner to better that on Thursday was Matt Daniels of Adams State. He came home in 3:51.20.
The men's 400 relay did enough in the prelims to qualify for the finals. The Eagles had the ninth best time - 41.23. St. Augustine's had the best finish on Thursday, crossing the finish line in 39.67. The AU quartet included Elijha Owens, Cory Lamar, Brandon Freeman and Jacob Cook.
Owens also qualified for Saturday's finals in the 400 hurdles.
This meet runs through Saturday.