How Kaitlin McGoogan Stumbled Into Being A Throws Superstar

2019 Outdoor Rankings New

Ragsdale senior and state record holder Kaitlin McGoogan vividly remembers her favorite moment from her track and field career.

McGoogan traveled across state lines to Columbia, S.C., her freshman year to compete in the discus at the well-known Bojangles Track and Field Classic (known as the Taco Bell Classic at the time). She was relatively new to throwing, having just picked up the discipline a few months back during the indoor season.

But her goal for the meet? Throw 100 feet in the discus to qualify for 4A regionals.

McGoogan had never thrown farther than 95 feet, and she had only competed in the event three times previously. But with four of her teammates standing on the edge of the Spring Valley High School stands supporting her, McGoogan surpassed her goal. She threw 101-1 and narrowly hit the qualifying mark, one of her happiest moments.

"We were just screaming to the top of our lungs because I had qualified for regionals," said McGoogan.

That day down in Columbia ended up being more than just another meet experience. It became the moment that McGoogan said she realized that she had the talent to possibly achieve great success in throws.

Back in 2016, McGoogan's only hope was to qualify for regionals. Now she holds the state record in the hammer throw and sits at US No. 6 in the hammer, NC No. 1 in the discus, and NC No. 4 in the shot put. She's even the top combined hammer-shot put thrower in the country at 203-3. All this success led McGoogan to sign with UNC Charlotte to continue her throwing dominance at the collegiate level.

McGoogan has come a long way during her high school career in an event that she never even imagined she would tackle. "I didn't even want to throw at first," said McGoogan.

McGoogan's interest in track and field dates all the way back to around fifth grade when she participated in a a county-wide elementary school competition to determine the "fastest kid in Guilford County." The young kids would race against one another and the winners from each school moved on to compete in the finals.

It was this unique school event that opened McGoogan's eyes to sprinting. In middle school, she pursued her interest by joining the Panthers Elite Track and Field Club based in High Point, focusing mainly on the 200m, 400m, and high jump.

In high school, McGoogan remained committed to running and jumping as she joined the Ragsdale team. But as Ragsdale throws coach Rod Stewart watched McGoogan jump at an indoor track meet during her freshman year, he thought she had great potential in another aspect of track and field.

"I went over and spoke to her dad and said 'Has she ever considered throws, shot put or discus?' " said Stewart. "And the answer was 'No, she wants to run and jump.' "

Stewart could see McGoogan's athleticism and thought that it would translate over well to throws. With a little convincing on Stewart's part, he talked McGoogan's dad into having her at least consider making the event switch. McGoogan reluctantly agreed to try her hand at throws, not sure that she wanted to leave behind her years of dedication to sprints and jumps.

Stewart can still recall McGoogan's first throws practice with him. He took her over to the discus circle and briefly showed her some of the basic throwing fundamentals. When it came time for McGoogan to take a shot at throwing, she picked up the disc for the first time and soared it out 90 feet.

Stewart's instincts about McGoogan had proved to be right.

"That's a pretty solid throw," said Stewart. "And we started working from there, working on her technique and getting her to at least get a grasp of what the two [throwing] events are all about."

It wasn't love at first throw for McGoogan. She was adamant about not wanting to compete in throws, and she struggled to find enjoyment. "I hated every practice because I didn't want to do it," said McGoogan.

She threw a season's best of 30-2.5 in the shot put during her first indoor season, a solid mark. But she quickly hit her stride outdoors, where she developed a real knack for the discus. McGoogan threw a best of 114-7 that season and went on to place eighth at the 4A state championships in the event as a freshman.

Performing so well on the biggest stage for North Carolina track and field during just her first year of competition served as a turning point McGoogan going forward.

"I was really proud of myself for accomplishing so much with having such little practice compared to people who have been practicing since they were like, six," said McGoogan.

As McGoogan's skill quickly began improving, her outlook on the sport began to as well.

"I started getting really good at [throwing] and I started to build a love for it the more I did it," said McGoogan.

She took off her sophomore year, finishing fourth at 4A indoor states in the shot put (38-0.75) and third in the discus at the outdoor state meet (131-4). McGoogan made her first appearance at New Balance Nationals, where she placed seventh in the emerging elite discus.

Junior year was no different for McGoogan. Highlights include impressive runner up finishes in the shot put at indoor states (PR of 41-11.5) and the discus at outdoor states (134-4). She stood on top of the podium again at this year's indoor state meet with a third place finish in the shot put.

One could go on and on listing McGoogan's noteworthy showings in the biggest meets. McGoogan embraces the competition and shines under the pressure.

"Most people feel like it's nerve wracking, but I actually like it," said McGoogan. "It's really fun for me. It really pushes me to PR, throw my farthest."

But McGoogan may have now found her best event as a senior-the hammer throw.

McGoogan first decided to dedicate significant time training for the event about six weeks ago in an effort to prepare her for throwing in college. Hammer isn't contested in North Carolina at the high school level, but it is an event that McGoogan will compete in while at UNC Charlotte. So with the help of Stewart and another coach who offered her his expertise, she practiced the hammer throw basics.

"Picking up the hammer was something that she wanted to do," said Stewart. "She said 'It just looks like it's a fun event. I want to try it.' "

Immediately after her first practice, she knew she wanted to stick with it. "I saw a lot of potential of me doing good in that event, so I just kept practicing," said McGoogan.

It wasn't an easy task carving out the time to grasp hammer; McGoogan still has to continue perfecting shot and discus for her high school meets. But with the limited amount of practices she's had, she's picked up the event with relative ease, like a pro-and she loves it.

McGoogan debuted in the hammer throw this outdoor season competing unattached against collegiate athletes at the VertKlasse Meeting held at High Point University. Going in, she had pretty high expectations: qualify for New Balance Nationals in the event.  

Before she threw, she talked to her coach to get some last second words of encouragement. Simply, McGoogan said he told her, "'Do what you do, you know what to do.'" McGoogan did just that, rewriting the North Carolina state record books in the process. She finished with a toss of 156-9 to become the state record holder in the girls hammer throw.

McGoogan didn't stop at 156-9. She continued to "do what she does" in hammer, improving on her record at the Phoenix Invite at Elon University with a throw of 162-5.

It's extremely impressive that McGoogan has set the hammer throw state record not once, but twice. What's more impressive is that she's done so with only over a month's experience with the event. McGoogan is still shocked by her performances.

"It feels amazing [to hold the state record]," said McGoogan. "I'm still kind of astounded by it because the record was kind of far. But I'm also really proud of myself too because I haven't had a lot of practices."

But to Stewart, McGoogan's early record-breaking throws speak to her given abilities.

"I mean, [hammer throw] is brand new for her. And she pops it out there 160, 165 feet," said Stewart. "It's just a natural thrower is the best way to describe her.

McGoogan may be a natural thrower, but she puts in countless hours of training to master her skills in the circle. She practices every day except for Fridays, mixing in weight training two to three times a week. Each day consists of a similar routine, usually with Stewart helping her perfect her rotation.

She spends her time at home watching videos of other throwers online. She discusses with Stewart potential modifications that can be made to her throwing motions. Simply put, McGoogan is a student of the sport just as much as she is an athlete, and that dedication sets her apart from other throwers in the state.

"She's a hard worker. She studies those events and it's just progressed steadily for her," said Stewart.

McGoogan will look to continue her stellar progression for the remainder of her senior season. She isn't afraid to set her goals high-she hopes to win individual state championships in the shot put and the discus outdoors, as well as finish in the top eight in hammer at New Balance Nationals in June.

But beyond her high school career, Stewart anticipates that McGoogan can accomplish special feats. He strongly believes that she has the makings of an Olympic athlete, especially in hammer. "She just kills that thing," said Stewart.

That's not the only high praise Stewart gives McGoogan. He said that he's never seen a thrower with such great technique and rotation before her.

"She's just got a solid rotation, the best rotator I've seen," said Stewart. "And I've been coaching [at Ragsdale] for 20 years."

McGoogan has come a long way from being the girl who didn't even want to pick up a shot or a disc. Her love for throws now runs deep. "I always feel like when I throw, it gives me an adrenaline rush," said McGoogan.

One fact remains certain: McGoogan was meant to be a thrower.

"She's just a natural," said Stewart.