HARRISONBURG – Ballet and even a little tap dancing can apparently go a long way in the throwing circle. Virginia Kibler is proof.
The rising senior was one of two East Rockingham High School track and field athletes to qualify for next weekend’s State Games Of America national championships in Hershey, Pa., after placing third in the shot put at the Virginia Commonwealth Games in Richmond with a throw of 31 feet, ¾ inches last weekend.
Judy May, a rising junior, will join Kibler at the national meet after placing second in the 1,500 meters among 15- to 18-year-olds with a time of 6 minutes and 24 seconds.
For Kibler, agility and balance honed on the dance floor has come in quite handy for developing a spinning technique as a thrower. Like a lineman in football, footwork helps create maximum leverage to be an effective blocker – or in Kibler’s case, to heave an eight-pound shot as far as possible.
“It’s really weird because when I’m just walking normally, I fall over and trip over things all the time,” said Kibler, who has taken about 14 years of tap dancing and ballet lessons at Dance & Company in downtown Harrisonburg. “But when I’m in the circle or on the stage, I don’t know where it comes from, but I’m graceful.”
At the Commonwealth Games, Kibler – who said she’s No. 1 in her class with a GPA of 4.3 – qualified for nationals using just a stationary technique. But she’s been working on more complex spins, including the South African-style throw that utilizes a half-spin while facing the circle. In the small shot put circle, spinning requires more compact steps and sharper movements.
“It’s all to build up momentum, because you want to have as much momentum in the circle before you release,” said Kibler, the 17-year-old sister of former ERHS linebacker Zach Kibler. “Strength can get you pretty far, but once you’ve maxed out on your strength, you can still gain like 10 feet if you get your footwork right.
“… I’ve seen girls who are like teeny-tiny throw it like 40 feet,” Kibler added. “It’s definitely because of their footwork.”
Kibler is learning some of that footwork from Sam Woody. He’s the director of the Hurricane Sports Performance Academy, which operates out of the Elkton Area Community Center.
“It’s more of a conditioning and fitness group,” ERHS track coach Lee Stover said. “It’s not just for track. … I know a lot of our athletes at East Rock, across all sports groups, have been going down there the last year it’s been open.”
Instead of transitioning into spring with cold legs, ERHS athletes training with Woody entered track season in tip-top shape. East Rock won the Shenandoah District boys’ championship in its third year overall last season and the girls finished as the runner-up in the league’s eight-team tournament.
Stover said May – who is expected to join the cross country team this fall – has run the 400 and 800 over the past two seasons, but would clearly be competitive in the 1,600 (mile) given her time at the Commonwealth Games.
“With her work ethic, I don’t see any reason why, especially as a senior [in spring 2015], she wouldn’t be able to run at the state level,” Stover said of May, a regular participant in optional practices held over spring break. “Certainly the potential is there.”
Kibler, meanwhile, is already on the cusp of a state appearance.
Her best throw in shot put last season was 33 feet, 9½ inches, just missing the Group A state-qualifying standard of 34 feet, 3 inches. Soon after, Kibler broke her two front teeth during color guard. While she was executing a horizontal spin, the flag caught her square in the face. What’s worse, the injury got infected and required a root canal, forcing her out of track for about three weeks, including multiple meets where she could have possibly qualified for states.
Now, that’s her primary goal, as both Kibler and May are aiming to become the fourth and fifth girls to represent ERHS at the state tournament.
Kayla Marshall graduated this year after making three consecutive trips for the Eagles in the high jump, placing seventh this past spring. The other two state participants were then-senior Josie Salcedo (16th in the shot put, 31-03) and Katie Crider, who posted the best triple jump distance among freshmen at 32 feet, 10¼ inches.
But Kibler and May are believed to be the first Eagles to qualify for nationals in Hershey.