By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — She excels at an event unfamiliar to most of her classmates at the University of Virginia, as well as most Americans. If she ran the 100-meter dash, or the mile, it might be different, but Meghan Briggs throws the javelin.
“Yeah, people will say, ‘Oh, wow, what’s that?’ Or ‘I’ve never heard of it,’ ” Briggs said. “Usually they’re just like, ‘What’s javelin?’
“Then I just say, ‘I chuck a spear,’ and they’re like, ‘OK, now I kind of know what you’re talking about.’ “
Briggs, a recent graduate of the Curry School of Education, where she majored in kinesiology and sports medicine, is one of nine UVa athletes who’ll compete in the NCAA track and field championships in Eugene, Ore.
The meet starts Wednesday at historic Hayward Field, where USA Track & Field’s outdoor national championships were held last summer. That was Briggs’ first experience with the city known as Track Town USA, and she was blown away.
“It was just like, ‘Wow, they are all about track here. This is awesome,’ ” she recalled. “Everyone got excited to see the javelin, everyone got excited to see the hammer. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I don’t really know about these events, I only watch the 100.’
“It was just like everyone knew about records, they knew about the history of the stadium. I think it’s going to be an awesome experience just to be there again in your last meet in a big track town where everyone’s excited to see this happen.”
Briggs, a three-time ACC champion, earned All-America status in 2009 after placing ninth at the NCAA championships.
She’s seeded fifth this year, “but I think going into this it’s really anyone’s game,” said Briggs, who won the javelin title at the prestigious Penn Relays in 2009.
Carrie Lane, who coaches Virginia’s throwers, said she and Briggs have talked all year about a top-three finish at the NCAAs.
“I’ve told her to never count herself out of competition,” Lane said. “She’s been a little up and down this year, but she’s come through at all the meets.”
Briggs grew up in Palmyra, Pa., just down the road from Chocolate Town USA — Hershey. To say she was an active girl would be an understatement. She ran cross country, pole-vaulted and played softball and basketball.
“I always played tons of different sports,” Briggs said, “and it was hard to only focus on three of my sports, let alone say, ‘I want to specialize.’ That wasn’t me. I couldn’t do it, because I wanted to do everything.”
Her prowess in softball, in fact, convinced the track coaches at Palmyra Area High that Briggs had promise in the javelin. After seeing her win a softball-throwing contest, Briggs said, “they were like, ‘Next week you’re going to throw a javelin.’
“I had, I guess, a pretty quick arm, and I guess that’s what they thought I had potential in. So then they just kind of threw me in the next meet after that, and we went from there.”
Briggs excelled in high school, but she wasn’t considered an elite college prospect. “A lot of people backed off because she was smaller,” Lane said.
At 5-7, Briggs looks up to many of her rivals. But Lane liked Briggs’ happy-go-lucky nature, her athleticism and her competitiveness, as well as her work ethic in the classroom and at practice.
“I thought she had all the tools [to be an ACC champion],” Lane said, “and I still think she has all the tools to be one of the best in the nation. I’ve seen people with faster arms and more powerful arms, but she makes up for it with her ability to use her full body in her throw.”
Briggs wants to become a nurse practictioner and plans to continue her education back in Pennsylvania, closer to her family.
“I’m going to miss her,” Lane said.
In her four years at UVa, Lane said, Briggs has “evolved from being basically a kid who does what she’s told, to someone who’s taken control of her career and made herself a national-level thrower. She’s improved so much.”
Virginia’s track teams are on the rise, too, under the direction of second-year head coach Jason Vigilante.
“We’re really start to focus in on wanting to be the top at nationals,” Briggs said. “Before it was just like, ‘Let’s get there,’ that kind of thing. You were seen as a big athlete if you made it to regionals. Now, it’s like that doesn’t mean anything. We’re trying to make the whole team get to nationals.
“It’s just become more competitive. The coaching staff has become more competitive. I feel like there’s a drive that the coaches want, just as much as the kids want, to be good. I just feel like everyone’s moving in the same direction. Everybody’s starting to move to, ‘Hey, we want to be No. 1 at the ACC meet. We want top rankings at the national meet.’ “