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Schwarz enjoys throwing her weights around

Published: Friday, June 6, 2014 11:18 p.m. CST
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(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Much decorated junior high athlete Tayla Schwarz wil be taking her talents to Dixon high next year.

For more than 3 decades, the girls track record board at Dixon High School has been unchanged in the shot put and the discus.

Tammy Turner set the discus mark of 126 feet, 4 inches in winning a state championship in 1980. A year later, Sue Kent posted a distance of 40-0 in the shot put.

Ladies, step aside, because there's about to be a new sheriff in town, and her name is Tayla Schwarz.

A 14-year-old who just graduated from Reagan Middle School, Schwarz is on pace to shatter those marks. In fact, she's already exceeded one of them.

In winning a Class AA 8th grade shot put title at the Illinois Elementary School Association state track and field meet on May 24 in East Peoria, Schwarz won with a distance of 41-2. That heave, achieved with an 8-pound, 8-ounce ball of metal, the same as high school and college athletes use, would have placed her third at this year's Class 2A IHSA state meet.

Her best discus throw is 124-3, at the Challand Invitational earlier this spring, putting her within 2 feet, 1 inch of Turner's school mark.

Thus, she wasn't boasting when pointing out it's a matter of when, not if, she etches her name in the DHS record books, barring unforeseen circumstances.

"I've got 4 years to see how much I can break them by," Schwarz said.

That would come as no surprise to her junior high coach, Lee Eastman.

"Whatever you ask of her, she does," Eastman said. "She surprised me with her competitiveness, and is an unbelievable talent."

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The last time Schwarz lost an IESA competition was in sixth grade. At the state meet, going against seventh graders, she placed fourth in the shot put with a distance of 30-4 1/2.

As a seventh grader, she went undefeated in both throws. At state, she won the shot put at 35-11, and the discus at 103-8. Her main competition was Ellie Weltha from Bloomington Junior High, who took second both the shot put (35-3 1/2) and discus (103-7).

Schwarz was again undefeated as an eighth grader heading into the state meet, but Weltha was waiting.

In the shot put preliminaries, Weltha uncorked a throw of 39-11 1/4. It broke the record of 38-4 held by IHSA legend Kelsey Card of Carlinville, who won four consecutive high school state titles, and now competes at Wisconsin.

Schwarz's best throw of three in the prelims was 39-9, a personal best, but still short of Weltha's.

"She's just a great competitor," Schwarz said of Weltha, "and I don't like to lose. I'm really competitive. I had to get fired up, because I knew I had to throw a really good throw because hers was pretty good."

The finals consisted of two throws. On her first attempt, Schwarz added 1 inch to her preliminary round distance, but was still 1 1/4 inch short of Weltha.

"I really thought I was going to lose," Schwarz said. "I seriously thought that was the best I could do because that was my best. That was my PR."

On the final shot put heave of her junior high career, Schwarz put together a perfect storm of an effort.

"It was definitely a lot of adrenaline that went into the throw," Schwarz said, "and I think I went through the ring quicker. Between throws, my coach [Eastman] and my dad [Bob] were trying to give me advice. I was trying to move quicker, and I think that helped. I had more explosion."

The final result: a stunning distance of 41-2.

"After they said the mark, I left the ring and kind of ran around for a while," Schwarz said. "I was in shock, because I really wasn't expecting that."

The fruits of that effort are still being harvested. She made a deal with her parents, Bob and Dawn, that if she reached 40 feet in the shot put this season, they would have to buy her a new iPhone, to replace the now comparatively obsolete Galaxy she had earned for winning state as a seventh grader.

Also, Dawn has to plop down on the couch and watch the entire Harry Potter movie series with her daughter.

"I haven't done that yet, but I think there are eight of them," Dawn said, her eyes rolling at the same time.

The discus competition was all but an afterthought. After her seventh grade year, DHS weights coach Brandon Woodward taught her the spinning method to throw, instead of a simple power throw. The more advanced technique was refined by Eastman over the course of the season.

The result was a throw of 120-7 at state, more than 18 feet ahead of the runner-up, Weltha.

"I think that Ellie really wanted to beat me in the shot," Schwarz said, "because she knew she couldn't beat me in the discus."

Of the two events, Schwarz prefers the shot put. It is more tailored for her brute force style.

"Discus throwers are small and have really long arms," Schwarz said. "It's like a ballet through the ring, because you've got to be graceful, and I'm not graceful."

Last summer, Schwarz made the rounds on the summer track circuit, competing at meets throughout the country. The highlight was the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics, held in Greensboro, N.C.

Competing in the 13-14 division, Schwarz placed fifth in the shot put with a heave of 43-3 1/4, but that was with a 6-pound shot. Competitors in that age group use a lighter shot put, and it was the first time she had done so.

"It kept slipping out of my fingers," she said. "I was not really happy with how I threw down there. Hopefully I'll do better this year."

This year's Junior Olympics will be held July 21-26 in Houston.

After that, it will be off to high school. She plans to play volleyball in the fall, then spend the winter preparing for track season in the spring.

The DHS shot put record will likely be the first to fall, an especially impressive feat considering Kent threw an 8-pound shot to set her mark 33 years ago. The discus mark, given the right wind conditions, will likely go by the wayside as well.

In the bigger prep picture, Schwarz would like to become a 4-time state shot put champion, like Card was during her days in Carlinville. The top non-senior in Class 2A this season was Wauconda junior Christina Meinhardt, who placed fourth at 40-8 1/2.

"Freshman year is going to be the hardest," Schwarz said, "because obviously I'm going against a lot of older people. I'm going to have to do a lot of work this year to try and get it."

After high school, Schwarz hopes to follow in the footsteps of her older sister, Brittany, who earned a Division I scholarship to run track and cross country at Illinois-Chicago. Tayla also hopes to get a free college education, and was already indirectly contacted by a Division I coach after the IESA state meet.

Way down the road, if everything falls her way, she would like to represent the United States in a Summer Olympic Games.

"I think it would be really, really cool to be in the Olympics," Schwarz said. "That would be my goal, but it's going to take a lot of work to get there."

Woodward, head girls coach at Dixon and a throws specialist, can't wait to get started working with Schwarz.

"She brings maximum effort," Woodward said. "She listens. She's unbelievably coachable. I think it's going to be a very smooth transition. She had great support from coach Eastman. Her parents drive her all over the country to throw. She's prepared. She's ready. We're going to find the best approach, we're going to work all the intricacies, and she's going to do a fabulous job."

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