By Pete Temple, Sports Editor
The college track and field career of University of Northern Iowa senior Jordan Williams has been a series of breakout performances.
As a freshman, Williams recorded a personal best in the shot put to edge another competitor for third place and all-conference honors.
“That was when I realized I could be competitive at this level,” the Monticello High School graduate said.
As a sophomore, he came out of nowhere to win the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) title in the discus, competing in front of the home crowd at the UNI-Dome.
“I think I was an underdog by about 15 feet,” the Monticello native said during an interview conducted in the stands of the dome. “I had a personal best by 12 feet, and beat the previous year’s winner.
“It was one of those moments where it just happened. There was no buildup. There was a big crowd, it was here, and everybody was really excited.”
Last year, his big effort came in the regionals in Austin, Texas.
“I made finals as the last guy in. I was 16th,” he said. “And then on my first throw of finals, I threw a personal best and jumped into second place.”
He wound up fourth overall, and qualified for nationals for the first time. There, he finished 14th. The top eight are first team All-Americans; Williams was second team.
“It was in Des Moines, so my whole family was there, it was just a blast to be there,” Williams said. “Discus was on the first day, so after that I just got to enjoy the rest of the meet and watch my teammates compete.”
That season, he also moved into second place all-time in the discus by throwing 192-foot-2 during a regular season meet.
“When it clicks, and he understands what he’s doing, then he can throw far,” said Dan O’Mara, the UNI throws coach. “He writes down what he did, tries to go back to the same positions that he did, and then he’ll have another breakout performance.”
Senior year goals
Now a senior at UNI, Williams is hoping for more superb efforts in order to meet his goals. He is two-time defending MVC champion in the discus, ranked 12th in the nation, and is hoping for greater things.
Williams lists several discus goals: to win the discus title at the Drake Relays in April, to break the school and conference records (199-6 and 203, respectively), and to finish in the top three at nationals. He would love to win the national title, but there are two previous national champions among his opponents.
He also competes in the hammer throw, and would like to make an impact there, as well.
“I’d like to score at least one point,” Williams said. “I have yet to score a point in the hammer.”
He might also have been setting shot put goals, but he injured his throwing hand in January. It doesn’t affect his discus throwing, but he is putting aside the shot put for now.
“The doctor said there is nothing torn, no real damage, but more I throw it, the more damage it will do,” Williams said. “If it’s completely healed by conference, I’ll probably step in and try to score some points for the team. But it’s the day before discus, so if we don’t need those points to win the meet, I probably won’t do it.”
Discus, clearly, is his primary focus.
“The discus has always been my favorite,” he said. “That’s really what I’ve always put the most work into, and that’s definitely where I’ve most consistently improved from year to year.
“The hammer is always a fun event. But I’ve just always liked the discus better. It just comes a little more naturally to me than the other events.”
‘A really good fit’
Following a Monticello High School career that included state meet medals in both the shot put (second in his senior year) and discus (third), Williams was sought after by several track and field programs.
“I really didn’t pick my school based on track,” he said. “There was a lot of attention from Division II and Division III schools, but I really wanted to go to a bigger school.
“I knew I wanted to compete in college, and I thought it would be really fun to compete, especially at a Division I school. So before my senior year, I met with the (UNI) coach, and asked him how far I would need to throw if I wanted to walk on. I ended up making those distances and then walking on my freshman year.
“It was the perfect size, and I love the campus. It was just a really good fit for me.”
He has enjoyed the camaraderie of the Panther throwers, a close-knit group by nature.
“We’re probably the closest group on the team,” Williams said. “We’re the smallest group, and we spend probably the most time together.”
Williams is now in a leadership role.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “I try to set a good example and work as hard as I can. I want to get as much out of myself as I can for my senior season.”
Coach O’Mara said: “He has the dedication and commitment to get better every day. As long as we stay consistent with our training and technique, I think he’s going to be a (first-team) All-American this year.”
Praise for coach
Williams has high praise for O’Mara, who came to UNI from Ames High School. Jordan and his father Greg, who spent some time working with O’Mara at Ames, helped influence the UNI coaching staff to hire O’Mara as the throws coach.
“Once he got here, we became the dominant point-scoring part of the team,” Jordan Williams said. “That has added to the fun. He likes to have fun at practice, he makes it fun to be here, and then we do really well.
“He took everybody who was here, and made them better. If he hadn’t come here, I don’t think I would have made it as far as I have.”
Williams, who is majoring in exercise science, hopes to make it further. If he can finish in the top 24 nationally, against collegiate and open competitors, he will qualify for the USA Nationals. Would he try to make a run at Olympic competition?
“People keep asking me that, and I keep saying it depends how this season goes,” he said. “If it goes well I’d like to try and keep training. I’ve been accepted in the masters program here, so I’ll still have access to all the facilities and the weight room, so it would be really easy to keep going.
“I’m going to stay on next year and do what previous seniors have done, help in the weight room, and maybe volunteer some time at practice.”
Meanwhile, he will wrap up his outstanding career by taking aim at the Drake Relays, the MVC championships, which will also be at Drake; the regional meet in Austin, Texas; and nationals in Eugene, Oregon.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Williams said.
PHOTO: Jordan Williams of Monticello, an NCAA national qualifier in the discus last season, is a senior at the University of Northern Iowa. (Photo by Pete Temple)