There is a bit of reservation in Emily Woods’ voice, and it is for many reasons.
It is there for what the Hickory High senior failed to do in 2008 and 2009, when two consecutive PIAA Class AA discus titles slipped through her fingers.
And it is there for what she is now expected to do in 2010 at the state meet, where she is the No. 1 seed in the event and where she hopes to become the discus title holder.
Ever since Woods witnessed her cousin --current Buffalo University product Kristy Woods -- win two state Class AA discus titles at Grove City in 2007 and 2008, it’s been what the senior has been aiming for ever since.
Two straight runner-ups in 2008 and 2009 just isn’t cutting it for her.
So this year, after taking her throws inside Shippensburg University’s massive discus area, Woods believes she’s ready to ascent to the podium, to the very top, for the first time in her career.
She wants to win gold not only for herself, but for Hickory High, who has a chance to win the Class AA team title. And for her family, who has a long line of throwers before her -- one, for example, is her sister Taylor, who is a burgeoning sophomore and is ranked No. 6 going into the event.
“Last year I thought she would win it,” said seven-year Hickory High throwing coach Keith Woods, also Emily’s father. “I thought her sophomore year she was going to win it. The people she threw against, they just had good throws.”
“I’ve been waiting for a couple years,” said Woods, who has a full scholarship to continue her track career at Ohio University. “I thought I would be winning it, but then [Freedom Area’s] Ashley [Adams] came out of nowhere [in 2009]. So I feel like it’s been my calling this year to go out there and do the best that I can.”
With a career PR of 140-11, which is also second best in the state, Woods might finally be in the position to do it for the first time in her career.
* * *
2010 has been a good year,
but first she had to experience 2009 to get there
What helped Woods take her mind off the discus, and off that singular driving passion of hers, was the shot put and the indoor season.
But you have to go back to last year, during the beginning of the 2009 indoor season, to understand why it’s been more of a benefit rather than a love-hate relationship.
Since discus isn’t thrown indoors, Woods was given the opportunity to fully concentrate on the shot put over the indoor 2009 season, and that was good considering she was completely changing the way she threw the weight.
Going in, she felt she had become stagnant. So she went up to her father who sides as a coach -- or is it other way around? -- and asked for help.
“She came up to me one day and said she wanted to spin,“ Keith said. “And so I let her do it a few times. She was throwing almost as far as she was when she glided, but only once in awhile. She was very inconsistent with it.”
The spin is a difficult maneuver, and for a high school athlete that notion is especially true. But Emily is a special talent, and considering Keith was coursed in the finer points of the event -- its techniques, its teachings -- he decided to let her try it.
The only problem was, when Woods first switched to the spin, she wasn’t very consistent. That’s why her entire 2009 was marked in ups and downs and every-which-ways.
“With a spin, you can throw big throws, but you’re inconsistent with it until you learn,” said Woods, who coached Kristy during her run of title-runs with Grove City. “And I keep telling everyone that she’s the last spinner I’m going to have.”
Woods varied between big throws and middling ones in 2009. She started off relatively strong, throwing 37-11 at the Slippery Rock Invitational on January 9th and then she heaved a 35-5.5 on the 15th at the Tri-State Track & Field Coaches Association (TSTCA) Indoor Meet #2.
A month later, Woods struck an indoor season best of 39-5.5 at the TSTCA Indoor Championships. Then, during the outdoor season in 2009, she improved the mark to 40-0 at the Erie McDowell Invitational.
She was getting there, she thought, but a tailing off at the later part of the season was frustrating. She won her District 10 meet, throwing 38-02, but came up short at states, finishing seventh at 38-6.
“My junior year didn’t go so great,” Emily said. “I switched my rotation in the shot put and my numbers went down. And I just changed some things up with that.”
To succeed you must fail, the saying goes, and it was her difficult 2009 that allowed her to gain a better traction on her career. For instance, she became a better, more vocal leader.
“I’ve seen more of a change in my personality, in how I’ve become more of a leader to my team,” she said. “I always encourage my teammates and I’m always wanting more people to do better and better, even from other schools.”
In the beginning of 2010 Woods threw 40-10 in her very first indoor meet, at the Slippery Rock High School Invitational #1. A month later, she raised her mark to 43-9.5 at the TSTCA Indoor Meet #7.
Only a couple weeks afterward she hit her to-this-day PR of 44-6.25 at the Pennsylvania Track and Field Coaches Association Indoor meet at State College, which gave her third place.
Now, with confidence in tow, she was able to attack the shot put and the discus during the outdoor season.
It’s called farm strength and apparently the Woods’ have it
Keith Woods grew up 10 miles down the road from Hickory, in what could probably be considered a rival in Mercer High. He threw the shot put (66 feet roughly) and discus (about 160 feet he says) and by his estimation was pretty good.
He never intended to be a coach, but when Hickory was in the need of a throwing mentor seven years ago, he decided to help the program out -- even though he didn’t know much about the craft.
Didn’t matter. Ever since, he has enjoyed every minute of it. A father of three daughters and a son, each has competed for Hickory. Keith’s oldest daughter ran on the track. “I couldn’t talk her into throwing,” he said.
His son, Ben, competed for one year and Keith said “he broke all three school records in one year and that’s the only time he threw.”
Emily and Taylor are now Keith’s last children on the track, which means Keith might soon give it up. Favoritism is always a divisive question, but Emily disputes nepotism when it comes to her father coaching.
“I’ve definitely noticed the dedication he has toward every single one of his athletes,” Emily said. “That’s helped me a lot at home, because he’s always calling me over to the next room and saying ‘Come watch this video’ or ‘Look at this workout’ or ‘What do you think about this?’”
As for how the Woods have become such good throwers, including cousin Kristy, Keith has a simple answer.
“You know what it is?” Keith asked. “I think it’s cause we’re farmers. I don’t farm but my dad has a farm and my brother has a farm.”
“It’s not that Emily and Taylor go over and help so much [on the farm] but I don’t know, as far as weightlifting is concerned, if you were to mess with them, they’re pretty strong.”
Inside the Woods household, there’s an equal dichotomy of good natured ribbing and competition between Emily and Taylor.
“The meet before this past meet, Emily wasn’t throwing well and neither was Symone [Somerset],“ Keith said. “They were throwing 38 feet or something. They all made finals."
“Taylor was at 37. She came up to me and said ‘Don’t say anything to them. Don’t encourage them and don’t tell them what to do.’ I said ‘Why?’ And she said ‘Because I’m going to throw 39 feet on my last throw and I’m going to beat them both.’ I’m like ‘OK, I’ll play along with the game.’
“She’s such a conniver, but it’s so much fun,” Keith said. “She ended up throwing a line drive.”
As a sophomore, Taylor is only beginning to round into form. She goes into the discus seeded 6th with a throw of 117-07.
It’s now or never
This story has a feeling of redemption to it.
It is because two straight runner-ups have given Woods en empty feeling inside.
Things look on the up and up on Friday. She goes into the discus with a PA#2 and career best 140-11, which was earned May 5th at the TSTCA Outdoor Championships. First-place there by eight feet -- over Taylor, coincidentally.
She’s the top seeded thrower in Class AA, by nearly seven feet, and looks to be a heavy favorite when the event will take place.
But don’t tell her that.
“I’m never satisfied with my distances,“ Woods said. “After I throw a PR, I still feel like I’m not where I want to be. In the discus, my goal for states is to get 150 and in the shot put, my goal is to hit 45. And getting first places in both.”
In the shot put, she goes in as the No. 2 seed. This past weekend she threw a outdoor season best of 42-3 at the District 10 Championships. She’s behind Elk County Catholic’s Megan Dornish, who goes in with a 45-01.5.
Going into the most important meet of her high school career, Woods understands one valuable concept.
“I once heard a quote that said ‘Only 40 percentage of your throws are completed in the ring,’” she said. “The rest is all mental. I take that to heart.”