McMurry University junior shot putter Paul Davis (Lubbock, Texas/Coronado H.S.) stood among the nation's royalty in his event on Sunday and proved he belonged, with a fifth place finish at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships at Drake Stadium.
Davis' best effort of the day was a throw of 65' 4", his third-best career mark in an outdoor competition. Davis was the highest-ranking collegiate finisher. Texas' Ryan Crouser placed seventh (64' 0 ½").
2012 World Champion Ryan Whitting (Nike) won with a mark of 72' 6 ½", followed by 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Reese Hoffa (Nike/New York Athletic club) at 70' 0 ¼", Zack Lloyd (Unattached) at 69' 2 ½" and Cory Martin (Nike), 2008 NCAA champion from Auburn, at 67' 9 ¾".
Davis' entire series was arguably has best overall set of the season, with four throws within one-and-one-half feet of each other (along with two fouls, one of which was intentional). That's was a far cry from his first appearance on the national stage back in March at the USA Indoor Championships, when he fouled on all three of his preliminary throws and failed to reach the finals.
"I felt more comfortable than I've been in awhile," said Davis. "I was more comfortable this time against the elite throwers."
The top three finishers in each event make the US team that will compete at the IAAF Championships in Moscow in August. Davis would have needed a lifetime-best throw to get into that position.
"In track and field what you want to be is consistent, no matter what your event. That's what you keep working toward. I felt good today. But sometimes no matter how good you feel, that big throw just doesn't happen."
What did transpire for Davis – who at 6'4" and 218-pounds was downright diminutive compared to the other competitors – was putting the heat on the rest of the field from the outset. Davis opened with a throw of 64' 1", which put him in third place overall after the first round of his flight and virtually assuring him a spot among the eight finalists (and an additional three throws).
"No doubt it was big," said Davis of his initial throw. "After that first one I was relieved and said to myself 'now I can go for it'."
His second throw proved to be his best effort of the day. On his third preliminary throw, Davis hit another good toss of 64' 2 ¼". Entering the finals in fifth place, Davis knew he would need to go well past 69 feet if he wanted to finish in the top three.
His first effort in the finals was in the 63-foot range, but seeing it wasn't his best he intentionally stepped on the toe board for a foul to save the officials from having to do a measurement. His second throw of finals – and fifth overall attempt – was just shy of 64 feet and he fouled on his sixth try.
"It was a night and day difference between indoor and outdoor (USA Championships," said McM throws coach Jerry Johnson. "He was much more consistent in everything he did. His first five throws were really good; really smooth.
"He's getting there and is only going to continue to get better."
But perhaps the biggest take-away – other than the top-5 national finish – was the fact that here was a competitor from NCAA II McMurry University showing he belonged among the giants, literally, of his game.
"Before they took us out on the field, we were all cutting up in the tent and having a good time," smiled Davis. "That really relaxed me a lot. Hoffa, Martin, Whitting…they are all good guys!"
But Johnson may have summarized it best.
"To throw in this competition and be able to be right with these guys is awesome," explained Johnson. "There were only four people in the nation better than Paul, and 15 other competitors who finished behind him.
"That's pretty good company."
Information provided by McMurry athletics department.