By Joe Scalzo
Before Youngstown State senior Jessica Parham became the best javelin thrower in Horizon League history, she was just a talented high school golfer looking for a spring sport.
“I feel like I shouldn’t be honest about this,” she joked, when asked how she started throwing. “I really wanted to do something in the spring, because golf is more of a summer and fall sport, so my friend said, ‘Oh, you should do javelin.’ And I’m like, ‘I hate running.’ And she said, ‘Oh, we don’t ever run.’”
She was sold. Her senior year at Peters Township High (just outside Pittsburgh), she missed qualifying for the Pennsylvania state tournament by three feet. She qualified as a senior, but chose to go to YSU on a golf scholarship.
Then-YSU golf coach Roseann Schwartz suggested she throw javelin, too, and when Parham won the conference title as a freshman, she was hooked for good.
“I think she regretted doing that,” Parham said, laughing.
Parham quit golf after her sophomore year and again won the conference javelin title the following spring. But she was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on her strained elbow soon afterward and redshirted last season.
Now healthy, Parham entered Friday’s league championship meet as the overwhelming favorite.
She fouled her first throw, popped a 40-meter throw on her second attempt to clinch the title, then threw a career-best 44.75 on her final attempt, breaking her own conference record by almost three meters.
“As soon as I released it, I could tell,” said Parham, who also qualified for NCAA regionals with the throw. “My teammates were like, ‘Oooooh, this is a good one.’
“It was a great feeling.”
Parham was one of two Penguins to win league titles on Friday’s first day, joining senior Samantha Hamilton (10K) as YSU jumped out to a 30-26 lead over Valparaiso.
Hamilton rarely runs the 10K and spent most of the race running alongside UIC junior Tess Ehrhardt before pulling away on the last lap to finish in 35:30.60 — less than 30 seconds off the league record of 35:01.55, set by Loyola’s Gina Valogi last season.
“I was hoping to go a little quicker, but I settled in [pace-wise] a little too early,” said Hamilton, a Jackson-Milton High graduate. “I did what I needed to do for the team and I’m happy to get the win after a disappointing [Horizon League] cross country race and struggling a little bit at the end of indoor [season]. It’s good to open up the first day with a win.”
On the men’s side, sophomore Connor Neu and senior Eric Vendemia (Cardinal Mooney) finished second and third, respectively, in the discus to help the Penguins take a 39-26 lead over Milwaukee.
Neu’s top throw of 160-7 was more than 10 feet behind Milwaukee junior Alex Chollet, but after rarely practicing the event this spring, Neu was satisfied.
“I’m still training [for regionals] and I was a little more fatigued than I thought,” Neu said. “But this isn’t an event that I practice. I kind of picked it up a couple days ago, so coming out here and throwing 48 [meters] after a couple days of practice is still pretty good.”
In the javelin, YSU sophomore Robert Dixon placed second and junior Kevin McCulloh (Boardman) was fourth.
The meet continues today and Sunday.
YSU is hoping to win its first Horizon League men’s outdoor title while the Penguin women are eyeing their seventh Horizon League outdoor championship.