Emily Hunsucker
Emily Hunsucker (CU sports information)

When Emily Hunsucker came to Colorado five years ago from Pomona High School, she never had thrown the hammer and figured she would spend a career in Boulder competing in shot put.

She won the high school state championship in the shot put in her senior year and believed she had potential to do much better in the event.

CU coaches had her try to throw the weight during her first indoor season. It is the equivalent instrument to the hammer, which is used in the outdoor season. Hunsucker said the first time she threw it, she lost her balance and fell into a sand pit used by the long jumpers.

Hunsucker qualified for Big 12 Conference championships during her freshman season. When she qualified for junior nationals that same season in the hammer, she knew she had found her niche.

"That's when I got really inspired about it," Hunsucker said.

She sure has come a long way from that first embarrassing tumble into the sand. She is looking to wrap up her college career over the next month competing for championships in the hammer throw beginning this weekend at the Pac-12 Conference championships at Washington State in Pullman, Wash. She will also have a chance to compete in the NCAA regionals in Arkansas and likely the NCAA championships in Oregon next month.

"Everything changes, so many things change in college," Hunsucker said this week before one of her practices.


Hunsucker is favored to win the Pac-12 title. She is the top seed entering the conference championships. Her best throw this season of 64.91 meters is more than three meters further than second seeded Lauren Chambers from USC and third-seeded Jillian Weir from Oregon.

Hunsucker isn't the only CU woman favored to win this weekend. Shalaya Kipp is the top seed in the 3,000-meter steeplechase with a time that is 24 seconds faster than her nearest Pac-12 competitor.

Several CU men will have opportunities to win in the distance running events, including Ben Saarel, Morgan Pearson and Blake Theroux. Freshman Jaron Thomas has the third-best qualifying time in the 400-meter hurdles and junior Alex Kizirian could be a factor in the men's discus and hammer throw.

The CU men are in third place with five total points and the women are in sixth place with three points following the multi events last weekend.

Hunsucker finished last season as a second team All-American with a ninth-place finish at the NCAA championships. She said having been through the major meets at the end of the season earlier in her career has her feeling good going into the final month of college competition.

"It's completely a shift of how you think about your season almost," Hunsucker said. "Last year I was like, 'Wow, God it would be so awesome if I could just qualify for nationals. That would be so awesome, dream come true.'

"Now it's almost like, OK, I had a really good season leading up to Pac-12s and then I know from now on it's like big meet, big meet, big meet and this is what I've been preparing for. It's not like, 'OK, let's see if I can do it.' It's like, 'OK, let's do it for real.'"

It has helped being coached throughout her career by a former NCAA champion thrower and two-time Olympian. CU assistant coach Casey Malone said he first saw Hunsucker at a throwing camp in Parker when she was still in high school. He said he thought she had a chance to be good beyond the high school ranks because she seemed to enjoy herself so much when he watched her compete.

"She is a great absorber of information and she has done a great job of never letting ego get in the way," Malone said. "She has been able to absorb information at a very high rate through her whole career. Pretty much anything I ask her to do, she does and she does it all out. Whether that is eating, sleeping, time management, managing stress, all those things that all college athletes have to deal with, she has done better than anyone I've ever coached."

Hunsucker is a bit of anomaly in the hammer throw. Many of the women she competes against are much taller and bigger than she is at 5-foot-6. Some who come to college from places in Europe have been throwing competitively for years before getting to college in the states and they can be dominant in the sport. Hunsucker likes to say she "packs a punch."

Malone said what gives Hunsucker a chance to beat bigger, stronger and more experience opponents is her personality. She is driven and thrives on the pressure of the big moment when some of her competitors wilt.

"It's that work ethic and that mentality that she's always had to earn everything that she has gotten that has really served her well throughout her college career because every barrier that we come to, she is able to get through," Malone said. "A lot of people throwing, if you're really big and throwing kind of comes easy to you and you can be very competitive in high school and then you get to college and your coach says, 'OK, we need to change some things and we need to work on some stuff.' That can be very hard for people. For Emily, she was just attacking from Day One. That was just her nature."

Hunsucker is in constant pursuit of the perfect throw. A moment when the hammer comes whistling out of her hands and soars down the middle of field further than she has ever thrown or will ever throw again. She said the key to a good throw or a good day of throwing is not overthinking it.

"When you get into the competition, I mean the big ones, it's almost like you can't think about anything or you're going to mess it up," she said. "Just relying on your technique and what you've done so far and then just being confident I guess. I feel that is really key and then just feeling what you're doing I guess and just go for it."

Contact BuffZone.com Writer Kyle Ringo at ringok@dailycamera.com or on Twitter: @kyleringo.