By DARREN MILLER
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — University of Iowa junior Laulauga Tausaga is a quick starter in a throws ring and that will come in handy Friday and Saturday at the NCAA West Preliminary Round at Hornet Stadium.
In her most recent competition, Tausaga won the discus and placed third in the shot put that led to her being named Big Ten Field Athlete of the Championships from May 10-12 in Iowa City, Iowa.
Striking early will be key at the NCAA Preliminary because there are only three throws and no finals in this round that includes the top 24 competitors from the west region.
“I tend to have some of my best throws first, which is fantastic for someone going into this meet,” Tausauga said. “You only have three throws regardless of what meet you are going to because you have to show that you can (earn) the next three (in the final). The fact there is no final (in the NCAA Preliminary Round) is what chokes people up because they know these are their only three chances. That should be your game plan going into any meet because you will never know if you will get those other three chances.”
At the Big Ten Championships on May 11, Tausaga’s best effort in the shot put was 56-feet, 4-inches on her second throw (17.17 meters). The next day she opened the discus competition with a gold-medal distance of 197-9 (60.28).
“She is a natural competitor, she has a hard time being defeated,” said Eric Werskey, Iowa throws coach. “She knows how to flip the switch. We might have a rough week of practice, but when we go to the meet, I know she is still able to compete and find a way. That speaks volumes for her maturity.”
The 2019 Big Ten discus championship is the third in a row for the junior from Spring Valley, California. It could also foreshadow more good news in the postseason for Tausauga. As a freshman, after winning the Big Ten discus (180-5), she placed third at the NCAA Preliminary in Austin, Texas (194-9), and went on to become first-team All-America by finishing seventh at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon (182-9).
As a sophomore in 2018, Tausauga responded on her sixth and final throw in finals to get past Katelyn Michael of Michigan State and defend her Big Ten discus title (191-7). Similar to this season, Tausauga doubled at the NCAA Preliminary in the shot put and discus, advancing to the NCAA Championships after finishing sixth in the shot put (54-1 ¾) and fourth in the discus (191-0) at Hornet Stadium. She added two more All-America honors at the NCAA Championships, placing fourth in both events (56-10 ¾ in the shot, 183-11 in the discus).
“It sets a high standard, not only for the throws, but what the women’s team is being able to do over the past couple years,” Werskey said. “For individual status, there aren’t many people who have done that. It shows how elite she can be and it raises the level of the group to take us to prosperous levels.”
Tausauga enters the West Preliminary Round seeded second in the discus and shot put. Current leaders are Shadae Lawrence of Colorado State (discus) and Alyssa Wilson of UCLA (shot put). As strange as it sounds coming from the mouth of an ultra-competitor like Tausauga, winning the NCAA West Preliminary isn’t on top of her wish list.
“I’m not saying I’m going to back off, but I’m not going into it to win,” Tausauga said. “I’m going in to make sure I am in the top four to five range.”
Placing in the top six this weekend would put her in the second flight when the NCAA Championships are contested June 5-8 in Austin.
Tausaga begins competition Friday with the discus beginning at 2 p.m. (CT). The shot put is Saturday at 7:15 p.m.
The first three events for the Hawkeyes on Thursday are field events. Sophomore Marissa Mueller throws the javelin at 2 p.m., followed by junior Aubrianna Lantrip and senior Tria Simmons in the high jump at 5:30. Junior Nia Britt and freshman Amanda Howe compete in the hammer throw at 6.