Fri May 8th, 2020
Special to the Drum
Tags: Adams State University, Alamosa, Aliyana White, CHSAA Class 2A State Champion, Durango high School Demons, Ignacio High School Bobcats, John Gurule, Matt Gersick, NCAA Div. II Outdoor Championships
Current Durango senior not worried by inactivity
Colorado High School Activities Association transfer rules effectively disappeared Durango’s Aliyana White’s junior season. 2020’s coronavirus-caused cancellations have stolen outright her much-anticipated senior spring.
But through it all, White never lost hope of seeing her initial diamond-in-the-rough promise fulfilled via college recruitment – which finally occurred Friday, May 1, in a fashion befitting, in hindsight, the unusual circumstances both she and successful track-and-field suitor Adams State University have seen past.
“Because of the coronavirus, the coach wasn’t able to come down to Durango so I could physically sign the [National Letter-of-Intent] paper,” White said Monday, May 4. “So he sent me a copy online; I had to sign on my phone!”
“I’m still happy I was able to sign but it sucked it wasn’t with my friends, my mom, my brother, everyone all together with my school, my coaches. I’d been dreaming about that day, and I wish I had everybody there that’s supported me.”
“She’s put herself in this position; it wasn’t by luck, but by work,” stated former Ignacio High School mentor John Gurule, presently wrapping up what would have been his first campaign as boys’ head coach at 4A Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline – he also teaches in the Issaquah School District – after last spring’s stint as throws advisor at 3A Mercer Island, Wash.
“I always encouraged her; she always had an open door to come try track-and-field, and decided to do it her sophomore year,” he recalled, of White’s breakout 2018 performance. “She’s been hooked ever since.”
“But I think the biggest improvement she’s made was actually … off the field, so to speak. She became more mature as far as … her work ethic, in the weight room, technique training, everything else. Did everything I asked her to.”
Mentioning sports psychology as an academic interest upon her eventual NCAA Division II arrival in Alamosa, Colo., White’s own mentality has already served her well through a relatively-late introduction to – and swift development as a throws specialist in – the sport, then a change of schools (she’d spent her first two high-school years at IHS), and now simply keeping an ultimate big-picture dream alive.
“CHSAA has a rule about transferring at the beginning of a season, so I wasn’t able to compete last year,” she explained. “So I went to every practice, workout, morning practice. My senior season was supposed to be phenomenal; I was supposed to break records and everything, but due to the coronavirus that wasn’t able to happen.”
“And I want to compete at a higher level,” she continued. “In the future I want to be an Olympian; I want to be on Team USA. I chose Adams State because they’re a school for track-and-field, ranked really high. The (throws) coach – his name’s Matt Gersick – sounds like a very promising coach that could help me go all the way, compete at even higher levels than I’ve expected to. Believes in me, and I know for a fact that under his direction I could definitely be any type of champ I want.”
Almost a CHSAA Class 2A State Champion shot-putter for IHS back in ’18 with a third-place 37’1.5” maximum (her discus peak of 86’4” ranked 18th), White estimated her range with the heavy sphere has increased enough to where she would have threatened the 4A Lady Demons’ existing record.
DHS Track & Field head coach Johnny Bertrand confirmed early Tuesday morning, May 5, that the standard – as viewed on the DHS Athletics website – remains a 40’9” heave achieved in 1980 by then-senior Jackie Meador.
“My personal record is 39 feet,” White stated, “but I was currently hitting, like, 43 to 44 in practice. Easily.”
And easily good news as well to someone like Gersick (also Adams’ Strength & Conditioning Director), a 2009 ASU grad and much-decorated thrower during his own Grizzly career, and to a known program like iconic boss Damon Martin’s, slated to have hosted the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Outdoor T&F Championships late last month – at which one of two apparatuses extra appealing to White would be used.
“Shot put and discus is so much fun and super relaxing, but I’m … super excited for college because I get to weight-throw and do the hammer throw,” she said. “Indoor [season] is weight throw; outdoor is hammer. So excited to get my hands on the weight; it’s basically a shot put strapped down in, like, a harness and everything. Goes farther.”
Hoping to hone her skills as sharply as possible at Adams State, White was quick to credit both Gurule and Durango assistant coach Robin Oliger for helping her realize her ability.
“Me and John … have a really, like, strong bond. He’s who helped me find my passion and what I really love. Turns out he probably knew me better than I knew myself at the time,” she said. “My freshman year I decided to do soccer, and then sophomore year I was like, ‘I’ll do track-and-field.’ And it turned out I was really good at it!”
“Coach Oliger, she’s spent two years helping me perfect my throw, helping me get my dynamics, and she also helped me be pushed to enjoy loving what I do every day,” continued White. “I would consider her, like, my second … mom.”
“When I was at DHS … we had several conversations about Aliyana, and how great she can be,” recalled Gurule. “But we just both wanted her to keep her discipline, keep her focus so she could potentially show her stuff on the field. She’s always been coachable, and Robin’s echoed the same thing to me; we were just excited to see her compete.”
“Then unfortunately this season happened and, well, that’s the way it goes.”
“Durango … was like a whole different vibe,” White said, addressing why she chose to transfer to Durango before her junior season, “and I just felt like that was the perfect choice. And we had a lot of events scheduled in Denver, in Albuquerque, like … big events I was planning on competing at.”
Regarding possible participation in any summertime showcases, White said she’d prefer to throw shot, discus or both “as much as I can, wherever I can,” but acknowledged future pandemic-related cancellations – which have already claimed the NCAA Div. II Outdoor Championships, to have been hosted May 21-23 by Texas A&M-Kingsville – could leave her wanting prior to her touching down upon ASU ground.
“Just being able to, like, release my strength feels super, super good,” said White, who did manage to see limited action in ’19 – for example, that February she threw the shot a second-place 37’10.75” in Albuquerque, N.M., at the 10th Annual Gardenswartz Great Southwest Indoor Classic – outside of CHSAA constraints. “I love competing!”
“Her technique can improve, and it’ll be helpful for her to have some competition; she was so far ahead of competitors locally … sometimes she could get lackadaisical,” said Gurule. “People that are at the same level, or better, to push her … will help her make that next step.”
“The first time I saw her throw, I nearly had to check the shot – make sure she was throwing the correct weight!” he recalled. “I was just blown away: ‘A first-time thrower?’ She was something special; I knew she had the ability.”
DID YOU KNOW
Had White been cleared to compete for Durango in Association-sanctioned meets last year, a replication of her 2018 State best in the shot would have been good enough – in hindsight – for ninth place had she qualified for her first Class 4A State Championships.