By BLAKE HEMPSTEAD
When Jacqueline Verlanic walked off the turf at Van Winkle Stadium in Bozeman her senior year, she knew she had not fulfilled her goals as a prep track and field standout for the Copperheads. Little did she know that coming up short of winning a state championship would lead her to places someone in her shoes has never been before.
Verlanic was an approachable yet shy student-athlete whom everyone enjoyed. Her senior year she was selected as captain of her volleyball, basketball and track and field teams, and her teachers and the administration of Anaconda High school would echo the sentiment of Verlanic being the definition of a stellar student-athlete.
But even though her accomplishments were too big to ignore, she felt a competitive hole inside. Verlanic was attending Montana State University in the fall to chase a degree in elementary education, but she also had visions of continuing her athletic career as well.
“When I walked on to the track team, my coach really liked to train people to be hammer throwers and wants everyone to try it,” Verlanic said. “After a little bit, he thought that would be my best option because of my size.”
Being short in stature – Verlanic stands just 5-foot-7 – never stopped this multi-sport athlete as a prep. She was a four-year letter-winner at Anaconda High in track and field, volleyball and basketball. Although she didn’t receive an athletic scholarship to continue her throwing career in college, she enrolled and walked on to the track and field program to see if she could prove the doubters wrong.
There was never a doubt of Verlanic choosing MSU, you can say Bobcat blood runs rampant through her body. Her father, Ken, was a member of the 1976 football National Championship team while her brother, Jimmy, walked-on and became a captain and starting center for the Bobcats. She also had an uncle, Mike Tocher, and cousins Andrew and Connor Verlanic, all play football for the Blue and Gold.
Her brothers’ success as a walk-on definitely inspired her to chase greatness, no matter how big or small the obstacle. In the Verlanic household, whether it was at her home in Anaconda or on the family ranch near Drummond, nothing short of your best would do.
“We learned from an early age how to work hard,” Verlanic said. “It led me here where my coach gave me an opportunity and I took advantage of it. And I’ve been enjoying every minute of it.”
Mike Carignan, who has been with Montana State as an assistant from 1977-1984 and from 1989 until now as coach in a multitude of events, specializes in the throwing sports for both men and women. Through all his time – he’s coached 21 conference shot put champions and 53 individuals in Big Sky championship meets – he considers Verlanic one of the best students and workers he’s ever coached.
“She had to come a long way, but I knew with her family lineage that she had the will and determination to succeed,” Carignan said. “She didn’t come by all of this naturally, she had some real difficult marks to exceed. Had she not done that early in her training, I would have cut her.”
Verlanic began as a redshirt in 2013 and full member of the team in 2014. As her indoor weight throw and outdoor hammer form began to take shape, her progress was unmistakable. She began placing in events and as a junior, threw a personal-best 179-06 during the season catapulting her to a fifth-place finish at the Big Sky Championships throwing 175-11.
This season, Verlanic continued her climb to the top. She is now ranked 10th all time at MSU in the weight throw (57-5.5) and after unleashing a personal-best of 194-04, the former walk-on now sits in fourth all-time at MSU in the hammer throw.
Two weeks ago, she parlayed her success into All-Big Sky status by placing third at the conference championships at Sacramento State and now will compete starting Thursday, May 25 at the NCAA West Regional, where only 48 hammer throwers out of the region were invited to participate.
And it’s not just the coaching staff that continues to sound off on the impact Verlanic has had on her team and the university. Long time sports information director William Lamberty said “she’s a great kid, and one of my favorites, same as Jimmy was.”
When posed the question, how does it feel to know you and your brother, forgotten by many after your prep days, have made such a positive impact on that campus, Verlanic was humble but appreciative.
“It makes me feel special, it makes me believe I’ve been doing the right things these past five years and now it’s all finally paying off,” she said.
Verlanic admittedly didn’t perform her best when she had a chance to win a state title in the shot and discus during her junior and senior years. She also says those disappointments have fueled her for this newest challenge – one that developed her into an All Big Sky Conference athlete.
“I definitely would say I choked at state a few times, but I think when I came to college I was mentally stronger because of those disappointments,” Verlanic said.
Carignan didn’t see fragility in Verlanic. He knew he was getting a raw athlete, but he also knew the work ethic from knowing the family lineage.
“She didn’t know how to not work hard,” Carignan said. “She was open to everything. Sure, I had doubts, but she wasn’t going to fail because of a lack of effort.”
Seeing the intimate beauty of the event – one he waxes poetically about because of its unconventional nature, Carignan is almost Zen-like when describing the mesmerizing event.
“Balance, rhythm, relaxation and confidence is required to become a successful thrower,” Carignan said. “In actuality, the less you do, the farther it goes. It’s a tug of war and you’re the anchor. I’d say one of 10 people are appropriate for learning how to throw the hammer.”
Carignan equates the disposition and coachability of Verlanic as being the main reason she’s become so accomplished in the event.
“It’s a strong instinct to turn your body sideways and pull hard on it, but that doesn’t work,” he said. “She had the wherewithal to be that anchor, someone who could sit back against something and believe it’s going to create more force than pulling on it sideways. What’s odd is you’re actually pushing it and a good thrower can keep the ball in front of you the entire time. Mathematically, in terms of physics, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense because the resistance increases from nine pounds to upwards of 200-300 pounds.”
After a career filled with hope and dreams, Verlanic will now compete against the best 48 hammer throwers in the West. She is in Flight 1 and set to throw at 11 a.m.
Early odds are to count the former Copperhead out as she attempts to place in the top-12 and earn an invitation to the NCAA Track and Field Championships June 7-10 at legendary Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. Then again, that would just be playing into her favor.
She’s crushed the odds her entire life.
Verlanic is the daughter of Ken and Teresa Verlanic.