By Brenden West Assistant Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON – A glance at the Steamer Invitational results from Fulton is to scan typical track agate. In the girls events, Erie/Prophetstown, Riverdale and Clinton claimed the top three team prizes; eight other teams rounded out the standings.
Near the bottom, in ninth-place, was Prince of Peace with 20 points, well below contending for a team title. In track meets, the success of the Irish depends solely on the success of Sydney Laufenberg, a freshman, who competes in only two events: shot put and discus.
She’s the team’s best athlete. She’s its only athlete.
And as the eyes scroll through the rest of the results, maybe one more thing stands out:
When it comes to throwing, freshman Laufenberg is dominant.
One great to another
Track has taken Sheena James far. Ten years ago she graduated from Clinton High, yet she still holds the school record for shot put. During her River Queens days, James was a champion at both Drake Relays and the state meet, earning gold medals for shot put.
Those successes yielded a four-year Division-I career at Purdue University. There, too, James holds records that have yet to fall.
Now, she helps train Laufenberg, and when she sees the results James relates as a fellow standout.
“She is honestly miles ahead of where I was at this time in my career,” said James (an assistant track coach at Ashford University). “I’m just in awe, and I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us. ... The sky is the limit for her success and potential, and it’s unprecedented.”
Laufenberg said she set the bar high for herself in seventh grade. She essentially planned out her entire high school career. This year, she was supposed to break 38 feet in shot put competition.
Yet, it even surprised Laufenberg when she passed that last week.
“I was a bit cocky in seventh grade,” she recalled, attempting to stifle a grin. “I was making all these plans for the future. But I think when I realized when I was good at this was the summer of eighth grade when I broke 30 feet on shot.
“Every day, I’d check the stats of the prior year’s state result and see what place I would’ve got. Every day, I’d get higher and higher.”
Throwing is her favorite pasttime, and the inches come from year-round training. Laufenberg works closely with her father (Chris, a former high school track star in high jump) and James during summers, and lifts through winters.
Thus far, she’s one of two freshmen with top-30 marks in the state of Iowa. Her best shot put throw — 38 feet, 2 inches — is fourth farthest in Class 1A, and her 120-3 throw in the discus is the second-best 1A throw.
Both personal records were set at West Liberty on April 26, where — again — Laufenberg won both events to secure 20 points as a “team.” Her discus throw would’ve qualified her for the Drake Relays had it come eight days earlier.
At West Liberty, for the first time ever, Laufenberg risked losing a shot put competition. She said the rest of the field pushed her toward setting new benchmarks.
“I had tough competition,” she said, recalling a back-and-forth contest with West Liberty’s Kennedi Simon. “I had one try left to beat her, so I threw 38-2, and ended up winning.”
What lies ahead
The further she goes, the more likely it is her streak of shot put victories will end. She owns the best marks going into the Big East conference meet Thursday at Northeast, but after that, Laufenberg will square off against Bri Kintzle and Shelby Steger (of Edgewood-Colesburg) at the district meet, rated second and fourth in 1A for shot put, respectively.
If she wins her district, or qualifies with one of the 12-best non-winning throws from across the state, she’d likely square off against Naomi Dalton, who right now has 2 feet, 4 inches on Laufenberg.
But she was kind on herself when she set her freshman season goal two years ago. All Laufenberg wants to do this year is qualify for state, and there’s a good chance she’ll do so in discus.
“I hope to go to state this year,” she said. “I probably wouldn’t win (shot put) because that’s a whole two feet I have to improve. But next year, I’d like to win it. That’d probably be the goal for me.”
Regardless of where Laufenberg finishes, James said she’s an athlete to keep an eye on for years to come.
“Meet records will continue to fall,” James said. “She has some of the most natural, raw talent I have had the pleasure of seeing. She’s a sponge and she’s beyond coachable. I honestly don’t think she knows how good she is.”
In Laufenberg’s book, she qualifies in year one and wins state in year two. As for year three and beyond...
“She’s going to be a monster,” James said.
In meets to come, Laufenberg will take the field as Prince of Peace’s only female track star. In a sport akin to isolation, she needs to rely only on herself to improve inch by inch.
Her 20 points a meet may only catch a small glance in the team totals.
But those who know track appear to be waiting on Laufenberg’s every throw, with certainty she’ll do something else to set Prince of Peace apart.