A year away from the sport didn’t slow down Morgan Taft.
It’s like she never left, resuming her spot as the best weight thrower in Dakota Wesleyan University track and field history. She has flourished during her senior season, ranking No. 9 among NAIA throwers after her school-record 16.35-meter (53 feet, 7.75 inches) weight throw broke her own top mark by more than a meter on Saturday at the Mount Marty Invite.
It’s been a winding road since she originally set the program record as a sophomore, though.
Taft left the team last season after having a “falling out” with the old throws coach. She competed unattached, evaluating her relationship with new throws coach Chris Aschemann before deciding to rejoin the team.
“I left the team with a negative attitude toward track and field. We had a new coach come in, and he was very open to giving me a chance to come on the team,” Taft said. “That’s why I competed unattached. I was feeling to see if I would be a benefit to the team, and if we meshed well like a family.”
As a singer, flutist and actress, Taft threw herself into the performing arts last year. While doing so, the Norris native and White River graduate also realized she still had a passion for track and field.
Taft committed to DWU knowing she probably wouldn’t become the best at shot put or discus, but she was a natural at the weight and hammer throws. For someone who loves to be on stage, saying the weight throw’s technique came naturally like a new dance move, it makes sense why she’s excelled at such a high level.
Improving her technique has been her focus since throwing under Aschemann, too. Her natural feel has turned into more fluid movement and better hand-feet coordination, with a focus first on her feet, then hips and continuing up her body before her toss.
“A lot of it was coordinating it with the small things she was already doing right,” Aschemann said. “Just correcting some timing things as she went through the full throw.”
It’s also more than simply perfecting her technique, though. Taft has extra bones in her feet, so her tendons and feet can start to hurt if she’s on her feet too long.
She downplays the impact it has had on her career, but it makes recovery critical. Taft mentioned rolling out her muscles, getting blood flow to her entire body, hydrating and consuming extra salt as ways she combats it.
“Hearing you have something that you’d have to have surgery to fix -- like the feet -- I’d have to have bones surgically removed to have ‘normal feet,’ ” Taft said. “It wasn’t hard because I figured out I could tape them a certain way where it alleviates a lot of the pain.”
She’s adapted, rather than slowed down.
That was on display Saturday, when Taft accomplished her goal of breaking her own record. She called it “mind blowing” to do it by more than a meter, but that’s a fair assessment of her season as a whole.
In a sense, neither Taft or Aschemann expected the significant improvement this year. She hadn’t competed in over a year and had to learn a new technique.
“It was just kind of shocking to see it come together at the perfect time this season,” Aschemann said, referencing the Great Plains Athletic Conference indoor championships on Friday and Saturday in Sioux Center, Iowa.
Even though she sits No. 9 in the NAIA, Taft ranks sixth in weight throw in the GPAC. That has shifted her focus more toward the NAIA Indoor Championships on March 4-6 in Brookings.
The top-16 throwers qualify for the meet, with the top-eight finishers at the indoor championships earning All-American honors. For Taft, that’s the goal.
The No. 7 and 8 throwers are each less than 0.2 meters ahead of her this season.
“My goal is to be All-American,” she said. “... I think I have a very good competition mentality. I don’t get in my head. I don’t focus on the other competitors and what they’re doing.”