Ashland University Strength & Conditioning Coach A.G. Kruger said it best – there aren't too many, if any, places in the United States other than Ashland, Ohio, where a couple hundred people come watch the weight throw.
That's what happened on Friday (April 24) on Day 1 of the 2015 Ashland Alumni Open, as some of the top men's and women's hammer throwers in the country put on a high-quality exhibition.
In the men's elite hammer throw, Kruger paced the field with a top throw of 75.54 meters, followed by former Virginia Tech standout Alexander Ziegler (74.71 meters) and Kent State senior Matthias Tayala (70.27 meters).
"Real good start on the first three throws," Kruger said. "Being able to throw that far right away, I'm happy. I'm excited for it. I'm right where I want to be.
"To have this many people come out, it's just wonderful. You're not going to have any other meets in the United States, besides maybe USA Nationals, to have this many people watching the hammer throw, so it's pretty special."
Eagle senior Zac Ball's second attempt was his best throw of the day at 63.92 meters.
"It's not only some of the country's best, but the world's best. It's an honor, really," Ball said of being in the elite portion of the day. "It's cool to see the crowd. It's always fun to come out here and throw and see some people from the community come out."
Asked how many pointers he has picked up from Kruger over the years, Ball said, "More than I can even mention. We don't have that much time. He's a really good role model. He's kind of taken me under his wing, and I can't thank him enough for what he's done."
The women's elite hammer throw was won by Bowling Green senior Brooke Pleger, whose top distance of 68.86 meters is a new Mid-American Conference record.
Sophomore Jordan Crayon, who already had automatically qualified for the 2015 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Nationals (May 21-23 in Allendale, Mich.) in the men's hammer throw, bestest his season-long mark by a little more than a meter on Friday. His first throw of 66.49 meters stood up to win the event, and was a lifetime-best distance, as well.
"It feels wonderful," Crayon said. "It just lets us know that all the hard work and dedication that we're putting in is finally starting to pay off for us. What better place to do it than in front of our home crowd?"
Crayon admitted that when he let go of his first throw, he didn't think he had gone past his previous automatic nationals distance. And…
"His coach didn't, either," Ashland head coach Jud Logan quipped. "He caught a little energy, he caught a little whatever it was that made the ball go farther. The hammer throw is simply a math equation – when the ball is released, it's how fast the ball is moving, what angle it is going. Nothing else can affect it when it's in the air.
"That throw probably puts him in the top five best hammer throwers ever at this university."
As for competing at a high level in front of the elite throwers who were on hand on Friday, Crayon said, "It's awesome. It's my own way of giving back to them. To be able to give them a little show, a little performance, it's awesome. I love it."
Fellow Eagle sophomore Bryn Campbell, who also is in the Division II nationals field in the hammer, finished second to Crayon with a top heave of 64.21, also on his first attempt of the day.
In the women's hammer throw, senior Shatora Lewis fouled in all three of her attempts – something which doesn't faze Logan.
"We've been putting so much work into the discus, and the discus and the hammer don't always work well together," he said. "Right now, Shatora's a main-event discus thrower outdoors. We're focusing a lot of her energy and time into the discus."
The second and final day of the 2015 Ashland Alumni Open will take place on Saturday (April 25), with field events beginning at 10 a.m. and running events starting at 12:15 p.m.