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Penn State

Hempfield grad Holmberg sets sights on All-American status in heptathlon

| Wednesday, June 7, 2017, 7:00 p.m.
Penn State's Maddie Holmberg competes in the heptathlon 100-meter hurdles during Day 1 of the Big Ten Track and Field Championships on May 12 at Penn State.
Penn State Athletics
Penn State's Maddie Holmberg competes in the heptathlon 100-meter hurdles during Day 1 of the Big Ten Track and Field Championships on May 12 at Penn State.
Penn State's Maddie Holmberg, a Hempfield graduate, won the pentathlon at the Penn State National Indoor Championships.
Penn State Athletics
Penn State's Maddie Holmberg, a Hempfield graduate, won the pentathlon at the Penn State National Indoor Championships.

When Maddie Holmberg injured a hamstring during the second day of the heptathlon at the Big Ten outdoor track and field championships last month, it derailed the former Hempfield standout's opportunity to win a conference championship as a sophomore.

The injury also caused concern for Penn State's coaching staff, particularly assistant Fritz Spence, who works closely with Holmberg.

“She's such a hard worker. You have to say, ‘OK, Maddie, that's enough today. Get some rest,' ” Spence said. “When she got injured, we were worried she'd try to come back and do too much too soon.”

In the past, Holmberg admitted, rushing a return would be tempting.

But with the NCAA championships on the horizon, Holmberg practiced patience.

“I realized my job was to get healthy,” said Holmberg, who became the first WPIAL female athlete to reach 20 feet in the long jump during her highly decorated days at Hempfield. “I worked hard with the trainers, stayed hydrated, and I listened to the trainers. It was my first hamstring issue, but, fortunately, it was more of a strain.”

Holmberg's patience paid off in the form of renewed confidence heading into the NCAA championships, which began Wednesday at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.

When the heptathlon — a combined contest made up of seven events (100-meter hurdles, 200, 800, high jump, long jump, shot put and javelin) — begins Friday, Holmberg and Spence believe a top-eight finish and All-American status is possible. Holmberg is seeded 18th after she scored a Big Ten-best 5,636 points at the Virginia Challenge on April 21. This season, the nine-time WPIAL and four-time PIAA champion recorded bests in the 800 (2 minutes, 23.39 seconds), 100 hurdles (14.01), high jump (5-4), long jump (20-3.4) and shot put (42-0).

“She looks better than ever,” Spence said. “Our goal is for her to be an All-American. We've set goals for her in every competition, and if she hits them, it's very obtainable.”

As a junior at Hempfield, Holmberg helped set a WPIAL record in the 400 relay (47.04), but she believes her speed has improved considerably in her second year with the Nittany Lions. She also has made significant strides in the throwing events. Holmberg never threw the shot put before college.

“I really like the shot put. It's just pure explosion,” she said. “It really is a full-body event. I've worked on increasing my bench (press), and I've done a lot of push-ups to get stronger for it. It's a technical event, and I've found that I'm a lot better at the explosive events than the graceful ones. If there's a ball to throw as far as I can, I'm all for it.”

The key event for Holmberg could be javelin. As she and Spence talked strategy for nationals, they agreed it could be the difference in obtaining All-American status or not.

“I've come a long way in the javelin. It's an underestimated event, and it's a lot harder than it looks,” Holmberg said. “I've gained a lot of appreciation for it. ... Javelin is the one. If I have confidence in my javelin on the second day, I can get where we want to be.”

Mike Kovak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mkovak@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MKovak_Trib.

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