DURHAM, N.C. - No Duke athlete experienced a more convoluted wait for a sports payoff in 2016-17 than freshman Katelyn Gochenour of the track & field team.
This time a year ago, Duke wasn't even a blip on her radar. Crowned the national high school and U20 champion in the javelin, her 2016 summer itinerary featured a trip to Poland to represent the U.S. at the IAAF World Junior Championships before she was to head for Oklahoma to begin her college career.
Gochenour competed in Poland in July, but the move to Oklahoma never happened. The throws coach who recruited her departed, and she wasn't interested in going to Norman without him. She waited around to see where he landed — it turned out to be Arizona State — but it didn't work out for her to follow him there.
So with only a few weeks left before the start of the fall semester, one of the best javelin prospects in the country suddenly had no place to throw.
Gochenour contacted all the other coaches who had been recruiting her before she committed to Oklahoma early in her senior year. One of those was Duke assistant B.J. Linnenbrink, who had worked with her at some training camps during her prep career. She had canceled a scheduled recruiting visit to Duke after her initial Oklahoma decision, but the Blue Devils were still interested this second time around and she was invited to join the program.
Before she could matriculate, however, another long wait ensued. Because classes were already beginning, she had to get re-admitted to Duke as a rare January freshman. That meant remaining at home in Iowa for the fall, training and spending time with her family before her acceptance at Duke was confirmed in December.
Even then, it would be a few more months before Gochenour could compete for the Blue Devils. With the javelin throw not included in indoor track, her winter was devoted to practice, training and becoming reacquainted with academia after having missed the fall semester.
Finally on March 25, Gochenour was able to participate in her first college meet when Duke opened the outdoor track season at the Raleigh Relays. And what a debut it was, as she broke a 10-year-old school record with a throw of 169 feet, 9 inches to win the meet. The old mark of 168-11 had been held by two-time ACC champion Daina Pucurs since 2007.
Gochenour was not overly impressed with herself, labeling the performance as “Meh” when asked about it later. It turns out that while 169-9 was a Duke record, it was still under her personal best of 171-1 from the New Balance national championships last summer.
Gochenour broke the Duke record again in April when she threw 170-2 at an invitational in Long Beach, Calif. She won some other meets, took third place in the ACC and placed fifth at the NCAA East regionals to qualify for NCAA outdoor nationals in Eugene, Ore.
That's where the big payoff to close her rookie season took place. On her third throw she once again bested her Duke record with a 173-3 — and this time eclipsed her personal best as well. She exceeded both marks again on her fifth throw with a 178-0 and then finished her series with a 174-6 on her sixth toss — giving her three throws in one meet that surpassed her previous career PR of 171-1.
Her 178-0 mark also gave her sixth place in the meet, making her a first-team All-America in her first NCAA Championships appearance. A week later, she was named the ACC women's outdoor freshman of the year. Shortly after that she went to the USATF Junior National Championships and claimed second place, earning a trip to the Pan American junior meet in Peru July 21-23.
Gochenour's interest in her throwing specialty began to germinate when she was given a small rubber turbo javelin as a Christmas gift in the fourth grade. Later on, she and her sister could often be found throwing javelins in the middle of the cornfields that surround their family's Iowa home. In eighth grade a seminal moment arrived when Gochenour's mom signed her up for renowned javelin coach Jeff Gorski's summer camp in Chapel Hill. “That actually made me good,” she says.
From there she was invited to join the NSAF Javelin Gold Olympic Development Program and spent all four of her high school years benefiting from its excellent coaching and training opportunities. At Duke, the next stage of her career is being guided by a coach in Linnenbrink who has mentored five ACC javelin champions in the last seven years. At this year's ACC meet, Duke had five All-ACC javelin performers, including men's champion Nicholas Solfanelli plus Gochenour in third and Christine Streisel in fourth for the women.
Gochenour's coaches over the years have found that her best performances typically come when she brings a relaxed mental approach to the runway.
“I don't like to lose,” she admits, “but I don't keep a file in my head of how many wins I have or what meets specifically that I won. I don't want my ego to get big, so I don't really acknowledge those things. I don't want my head to get big and then my attitude changes. So I stay really grounded in thinking about my training. If I'm training right and my throws are going well and my body feels good, then I know it will pay off.”
For her first semester in college, that pay off may have been a long time coming, but it was worth the wait.
“I'm looking forward to my future here because I can definitely foresee it being a super successful career, school-wise and track-wise. Everyone says that first semester is the hardest. I absolutely understand that, but I'm super excited to stick it out.”