COLUMBUS — Both coach and student-athlete were still stunned in the wake of the Division II state discus.
First-year starter Michaela Herendeen, a Field thrower once in jeopardy of not making it to the regional meet, finished her junior season fifth in the state.
"It was crazy," Herendeen said, holding back tears. "I never thought I'd be here."
"She's just on cloud nine," throws coach Levi Miller added. "I don't know if even she thought she could do this."
So how did the Falcons junior do it? Faith.
It's as simple as that.
"My coach always told me to have faith, and that's what I did today and this is what happened," Herendeen said. "I just went in all out and this is what the result was."
There have been plenty of high podium finishes in Portage County in recent years, but there haven't been too many stories quite like Herendeen's.
"It's just incredible to see her have those big-kid throws in a really pressure-packed situation," Miller said. "It's kind of crazy because she's not somebody that went to state last year, did really well at invitationals. She kind of came out of nowhere, and especially regional and state, I don't know where this confident throwing came from, but it just kind of clicked and she's had some really big-kid moments."
Once a starter, Michaela Herendeen seizes her chance
Herendeen had to wait for her chance in a loaded girls throws program that qualified two for state in the discus last year and another in the shot put.
As a freshman and a sophomore, Herendeen was buried on the depth chart, so to speak.
She had more chances in the high jump and, said Herendeen, "it wasn't good."
There were signs, though, that she would be good once last year's discus podium finishers Emily Davis and Ali Morris graduated. Indeed, she hit triple digits (103 feet, 3 inches) as a sophomore.
Still, 2023 was Herendeen's first year going to all of the big varsity meets and places like Salem, Austintown and Columbus in pursuit of the sport's ultimate prizes.
Essentially a varsity rookie, Herendeen looked a little shaky in her first postseason test, starting the Salem District meet with the wrong kind of bang, as she sent a warm-up toss clanging off the protective cage.
"I think going into finals, I think she only had a 105 or something like that," Miller said. "I was like, 'Oh, no, she's not going to make it out of districts at this point.'"
But she recovered amid the rain to place third (110-11) and make it to Austintown, where she finished as the regional runner-up.
At state Friday, as the 10th seed, making finals (top nine) was the first task, and Herendeen did so with a strong second throw (120-6).
"It was sort of like last year [with Davis and Morris]," Miller said. "I mean, we were going into finals, like, well, you got to beat at least two kids to make it to finals, so we were just kind of nervously sitting there on every kid's throwing, marking off the numbers."
When she got to finals with that 120-6, Herendeen had a simple goal, said Miller.
Eight of the nine who make finals land on the podium. The Falcons junior couldn't finish ninth.
"We had this conversation yesterday. I was talking to her, and she's like, 'I made it so far, it's been a great season,' and she said, 'I don't care if I make finals, but if I make finals I'm not getting ninth,'" Miller said. "She's like, 'If I get finals, I'm making it on the podium.'"
She did just that, saving her best throw for last (124-10), although it turns out the 120-6 would have been enough to get her on the podium.
"I worked really hard from my freshman year behind all of our top throwers," Herendeen said. "I just never thought that I would get to this point and be able to follow in their footsteps."
How did it happen? How did a rookie overcome such obstacles with the savvy of a grizzled veteran?
Herendeen said it was simple: "Just have faith and believe that you can, and that's what I did."
This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Field junior Michaela Herendeen finishes fifth in OHSAA state discus