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Southeast's senior javelin thrower makes giant strides in the sport
Ben Stricklin likely is the best javelin-throwing cheerleader in the country.
If Stricklin keeps improving at his current pace, he might become one of the nation's best javelin throwers period.
The Southeast Missouri State senior continued his remarkable rise Saturday as he rolled through the competition at the 27th annual SEmotion Relays.
Stricklin tossed the javelin 214 feet 6 inches during the track and field meet hosted by Southeast at the Abe Stuber Complex.
Not only did Stricklin win by more than 40 feet, he also met the NCAA regional qualifying standard with his career-best performance that ranks third on the school's all-time list.
"It felt amazing," said Stricklin, who said qualifying for regionals was one of his big goals entering the meet. "You can just feel it when you have a good throw."
Stricklin has had plenty of good throws already during this young outdoor season. He is the reigning Ohio Valley Conference field athlete of the week and his recent toss of 199-8 ranks fourth all-time at Southeast.
It's all pretty heady stuff for the New Madrid County Central High School graduate who has been a member of the Southeast cheerleading team the past three years.
Stricklin said he has played baseball "all my life" and he thought the arm speed and motion necessary to throw the javelin might be similar to what he used while pitching at NMCC.
So he approached Southeast coach Joey Haines last year about joining the track and field program.
"I told him I'd like to try this out," Stricklin said.
Stricklin experienced plenty of growing pains during his initial season, primarily working on his own and competing in just one meet.
"He wasn't very good," Haines said. "But he was learning and you could see he had a little talent. By the end of the year he was really getting better."
Still, the 5-foot-8, 200-pound Stricklin estimated that his best throw last year was no more than 142 feet.
"It took some time," he said. "I've only been doing this 11 months. I'm still learning."
Very few states have the javelin as a high school event, so Haines said pretty much every Southeast javelin thrower has to learn from scratch.
"It's one of the events you have to develop people in," Haines said.
Stricklin said he believes his cheerleading background has helped him become adept quickly at the javelin.
"I think the only reason I'm good at this is cheerleading, from tossing girls," he said. "The mechanics of being explosive. ... It takes a lot of effort and power."
Stricklin credits Southeast assistant coach Eric Crumpecker for much of his success.
"He's a great coach. He's really worked with me," Stricklin said.
Haines said Stricklin's worth ethic has plenty to do with his fast rise.
"He's worked really, really hard," Haines said.
About the only negative, Haines said, is that Stricklin didn't approach the coach earlier.
"The shame of it all is he's a fifth-year senior," Haines said. "If he had come by a couple of years ago, he might really be something."
Stricklin is doing pretty good as it is. He met the regional qualifying standard on his final attempt Saturday, after which he celebrated with an emotional fist pump.
"I was fired up," he said.
While Stricklin still might be considered a long shot to qualify for nationals — the top five finishers at the regional make the cut — Haines won't rule that out.
"This puts him in the hunt," Haines said.
Smith, other winners
Among Southeast's other winners Saturday was senior 400-meter runner Miles Smith, who captured the SEmotion Relays title for the fourth straight year.
Smith, a four-time All-American, clocked 46.23 seconds in his first open 400 of the outdoor season. Pending other results from the weekend, that's the nation's fastest collegiate time so far this year.
"I'm happy with that for my first meet," said Smith, who did not appear to extend himself. "This early, you can't go too fast."
Other men's winners for Southeast were senior John Berry (long jump), junior Bilal Hameed (triple jump) and junior Brandon Karcher (5,000).
On the women's side for the Redhawks, junior Orie Ibe won the 400 and was third in the 200.
The team competition was scored as a series of dual meets. Southern Illinois won both divisions, going 7-0 on the men's side and 6-0 on the women's side.
Southeast's women were second at 5-1, while Southeast's men — who have several key athletes injured — placed fourth at 3-4.
"Nobody at this meet was worried about the team scores," Haines said. "I was really happy with our performances."