Hammering the competition

Dayana Octavien has a list of goals for the upcoming track and field season. One of those aspirations is a hammer throw of 190 feet, which could book her a spot in the NCAA Championships. In the meantime, all Octavien has done is qualify for the Junior National Team.

With a throw of 170 feet, 10 inches, at the Junior Nationals June 15, Octavien placed third in the hammer and made the international team as an alternate.

“I knew I had it in me, but I didn’t know if I was actually going to do it that day,” Octavien said. “In the semifinals … I was ninth out of 10 and I came back and threw my first throw in finals and got third, so that was good. It was surprising.”

USF assistant coach Heather Hendrix-Holms said the feat was even more impressive given that Octavien was merely in her freshman year and she had to make the adjustment from the weight throw to the hammer throw.

The hammer is an eight-pound ball attached to a meter-long wire, whereas the weight throw involves a 20-pound ball on a handle that is six to eight inches long.

“You wouldn’t expect a first-year kid to go out and take third at Junior Nationals, especially picking up the hammer late,” Hendrix-Holms said. “And she struggled with it a bit because she went from indoor (competition) when they do the weight, to going to the hammer, which is completely different.”

A graduate of Lely High School, Octavien had never done the hammer throw prior to arriving at USF, instead concentrating on the discus and shot put. But she wasted no time getting used to the new event, shattering Tasha Talley’s school record (157-9) by fifteen feet at a meet in Gainesville.

“I was very surprised,” Octavien said. “I threw about a 154 – that was about a couple feet from the school record … then my next throw was 15 feet (beyond the record) and that just shocked me because I was expecting to throw maybe five feet farther.”

While in high school, Octavien won state championships in the discus and shot put in 2000 and earned top 3 finishes in 1999.

Octavien, a native of Naples, was recruited by Illinois, Central Florida and USF, but chose South Florida primarily because of her recruiting visit.

“I just enjoyed it. I liked the coaches,” Octavien said.

USF coach Greg Thiel said the main attribute he saw in Octavien was her athleticism. Along with the throwing events, Octavien sometimes competed in the high jump as well as some running events in high school. She also played softball, volleyball and basketball before concentrating on track and field exclusively in her last two years.

At 5 foot 10 inches, 175 pounds, Octavien is not as bulky as many other throwers, but according to Thiel, athleticism is more important than sheer size.

“Successful throwers are very, very athletic,” Thiel said. “They’re explosive, they’re quick – kinda like linemen in football.”

Octavien spends equal amounts of time on honing her technique and lifting weights – such as squats and bench presses – to gain strength.

“You can have the best technique, but the stronger person is always the better person if you have the same technique,” Octavien said.

In addition to the school record, Octavien also scored in the two Conference USA meets this past season. But those performances are just a bonus for Thiel, who has three requirements for freshmen: excel academically, practice with a good attitude and be a good citizen.

“She’s obviously done all those things and far exceeded those. So we’re extremely pleased with Dayana,” Thiel said.

Octavien, 19, gives a lot of credit to her parents,Stephen and Philmene, as well as high school coach Kim Butts.”He (Butts) taught me everything I know and he pushed me to do well,” Octavien said. “And he supported me and helped me to find schools to go to and all that.”

A pre-med major with a GPA of more than 3.8, Octavien has a positive influence on her teammates, according to Thiel.

“She gets along with everyone on the team,” Thiel said. “She rarely comes in with gloom and doom. She’s very even-keeled, very happy person, pretty much always has a smile on her face. Great outlook on life.”

But one of Octavien’s downfalls may be that she is too hard on herself.

“She’s way too hard on herself when she doesn’t (meet) her expectations,” Thiel said. “And that’s something she’s going to need to learn to handle … you’re not going to go out there every day and throw a PR (personal record).”

Octavien’s stint with the junior national team might begin Aug. 18, at the Dual Meet in Staffordshire, England. She said she probably will not make that trip, but she will more than likely compete in the Junior Pan-Am Championship in Santa Fe, Argentina Oct. 18-20.A bigger meet – the Olympics – is Octavien’s ultimate ambition in the sport, and she also intends to pursue a medical career.

Hendrix-Holms said her pupil has the necessary ingredients to excel as a thrower.

“She’s motivated and she’s athletic,” she said. “She’s had really good coaching before me, so I got lucky.”