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Will Koeck: From walk-on to Big East champion

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Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics

Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics

Three years ago, Will Koeck didn’t have Marquette track & field on his radar.

He had not even heard of weight throw or hammer throw, events he would later compete in for the Golden Eagles. But when he saw his older sister Kathryn take part in those events her freshman year at Marquette, his athletic future changed.

“After coming to a few of her meets and seeing the event done, I got interested in it and started talking to (associate head coach Michael Koenning) about the possibility of trying to be a walk-on here,” Koeck said.

Saturday, the former walk-on junior completed his journey to the top of the Big East, winning the conference title with a career-best and program-record weight throw of 69 feet, 8.25 inches.

“I really just started to go after it because I knew I needed to up my throw to make NCAAs,” Koeck said. “It all came together on that last throw.”

Koeck’s throw put him eighth on the NCAA Division I weight throw performance list for the 2014 indoor season. The top-16 throwers advance to the NCAA Indoor Championships March 14 and 15 in Albuquerque, N.M.

The Winneconne, Wis., native took an unconventional route to his conference championship. Koenning learned about him from recruiting his older sister, but wasn’t sure Koeck could make the team because his high school performances didn’t scream Division I athlete.

“He didn’t come to Marquette with a guaranteed spot on the team,” Koenning said. “He came in with the understanding that he had to learn a new event and prove himself. When he arrived on campus we started from scratch for him to learn the hammer and weight throws.”

Koeck fouled out at the Big East Indoor Championships his freshman season and placed eighth his sophomore year with a mark 11 inches shorter than his throw Saturday. His previous struggles motivated him to take his throws to the next level.

“It really did motivate me to go out there and compete,” Koeck said. “A lot of it had to do with our team scores. We knew exactly what we needed to do in order to put ourselves in a position where we could’ve come home with third place.”

While the men’s team fell short of its goal and finished fourth, Koeck certainly held up his end of the bargain. Coach Bert Rogers said Koeck rose to the occasion when the team needed him.

“As an athlete, you’re always trying to improve yourself,” Rogers said. “Will’s always up for the challenge of trying to improve himself and help out the team in every way he can.”

Koenning said Koeck’s determination to succeed led him to make a huge leap forward his junior season.

“It’s a result of lots of diligent practice and learning from his experiences,” Koenning said. “He’s building from both his great meets and the ones he’d like to forget to move forward into a more successful thrower.”

The coach who saw potential in Koeck three years ago couldn’t be more proud of his remarkable accomplishment.

“He’s come a long way in that time,” Koenning said. “A lot of trial and error that often involves literally falling down. He just keeps getting back up and working hard … I’m proud to have helped him achieve that.”

As for the champion himself, he isn’t letting his success get to his head. He still has bigger challenges ahead in the coming weeks.

“I honestly don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” Koeck said. “There’s just a lot of work to be done before next week in Boston, which is last chance meet to try and move up, and after that, NCAAs.”

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