Competing at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships for the first time seems like it should be a knee-wobbling endeavor.
With the best athletes in the country ready to push and sweat for personal and school glory, why wouldn’t it be?
Well, for Ali Pistora, a 2007 Tonganoxie High grad, the regional qualifying meet on the way to the championships provided enough drama to make the daunting event feel free and easy.
Pistora, a sophomore at Kansas State University, became one of 26 javelin throwers in the nation to advance to the championships in Fayetteville, Ark., by surprising herself at the Midwest Regional in Norman, Okla., a week and a half earlier.
“It was kind of nerve-wracking because it could be your last meet,” Pistora recalled during a recent telephone interview.
The regional actually provided more drama than she knew. Pistora’s throw of 158 feet, 3 inches placed her fifth — by one centimeter.
However, she assumed her season had just come to an end.
“I thought it was only the top four that go, but it was actually the top five, so I was pretty upset until someone told me,” Pistora said, admitting she was thinking of her prep days at Tonganoxie, when the top four at regionals qualify for state.
That gave the former Chieftain and current Wildcat plenty of levity for her national prelim on June 10 at John McDonnell Field on the University of Arkansas campus. Pistora said it felt like any run-of-the-mill track meet, absent of overwhelming pressure.
She wasn’t supposed to go far or make it to the finals, but that didn’t bother her in the least.
“I was just having fun,” Pistora said.
And even though her second, and best, throw of 153-8 in her flight placed her 17th, with only the top 12 advancing, Pistora wasn’t bummed.
Her season came to a close at the track and field championships.
That wasn’t a bad way to go out.
Now, the next step is to return to the NCAA finals as a junior or senior — or both.
“I want to go back,” Pistora said. “I want to get to their level or get past them.”
At this moment, her personal record in the javelin is 160-1.
But Pistora already has 170 on her to-do list for next season, and with that, she hopes, an All-America honor and a return to the NCAA championships.
To do that, she said she will keep plugging away as she did her first two years in Manhattan. In that time, Pistora changed and — although it was rough at first — improved her technique. Not only that, but she’s stronger and faster than ever.
“It’s a little rough to get through,” she said, “but you know eventually you’ll throw farther than you ever have.”
If that’s the case, she shouldn’t have any reason to be nervous.