Before she was an all-state discus thrower, Alpena's Emily Ferguson figured she would try the event on a whim.
"My coach was a lot of that (persuasion). He wanted me to try it and I wasn't sure at first," Ferguson said. "I did hurdles in junior high and came into high school doing hurdles, but asked one day during my freshman year if I could trying throwing and it all just came together."
Ferguson's choice to commit herself to throwing the discus paid off in a big way on Wednesday when she signed a Letter of Intent with Grand Valley State University.
"It's a big commitment, but I'm ready to go and conquer," she said.
Ferguson will join the Lakers as a walk-on, but will have the opportunity to earn scholarship money once she puts some time in with the team. She plans to study diagnostic medical sonography with the goal of becoming an ultrasound technician.
Her decision to stick with discus throwing was a welcome one for the Alpena girls track team. Ferguson became a two-time state qualifier in the discus and earned all-state honors as a junior after finishing seventh with a throw of 113-3. This season she finished 18th out of 28 girls at the state finals with a throw of 107-5. She also won all-Big North Conference honors the last two seasons and was a three-time Alpena News Honor Roll champion in the event.
Ferguson initially wanted to throw the shot put as a freshman, but soon found at the discus was her passion. Throwing the discus successfully depends a lot on technique and grip and Ferguson improved with each year she competed.
"A lot of throwers may have the size, strength and agility, but they don't have a strong grip. She made it fit comfortably," Alpena throws coach Don Swider said. "She was very dedicated and she took it serious."
The Wildcats have turned out several collegiate runners in the last several years, but haven't had a collegiate thrower since Rachel Gebauer went to the Air Force Academy to throw the shot put a few years ago.
"As a freshman she was actually in my class and we talked about her running track. At the time we needed some throwers, badly, and at that time (head coach Jack Gebauer and I), we went back and forth about, who do we use and where," Alpena girls track coach Collin Riffert said. "She did a couple of drills and Emily was one who threw quite a long way in those couple drills we did. I talked to him and said we have to try this out. You look at it now and it's funny how things work out."
Ferguson visited the Grand Valley campus last month and met with throws coach Blaine Maag and met with some of her teammates. She'll join a team that captured both the indoor and outdoor NCAA Division II championships in each of the last two seasons.
"They're No. 1 in Michigan right now and I plan to contribute and help with that as much as I can," Ferguson said. "I'll be going in probably as a beginner and learning new things most definitely, but meeting all the teammates, they seem like one big happy family."
Ferguson join what looks to be group of throwers as the Lakers graduate several upperclassmen including All-American Sam Lockhart who was invited to the US Olympic Trials last year.
"I am looking forward to working with Emily next fall. She has all the tools and the work ethic to be great at the next level. With a strong senior class graduating this spring, Emily will have the opportunity to make an impact in our program right away. Grand Valley is excited," Maag said.
This year's group of track and field athletes may have raised the bar for Alpena. Along with Ferguson, Christina Kollien, Elaine Lowe and Kelsey Lewis are among those who will compete colliegately next season.
Riffert is hopeful Ferguson's work ethic can spark interest in some of Alpena's younger athletes to compete in the throwing events.
"She's awesome. The rest of the team loves her and she works hard at disc and everything else," Riffert said. "She's one of those, that as a senior, you're glad to have around because all the girls look up to her and see what it takes to get to the next level."
James Andersen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.