Many of us who religiously or casually follow college sports, have in our minds an image of the qualities which we might say exemplify that of the “stereotypical freshman.”
Most of us would agree that a college athlete’s freshman campaign is supposed to be the hardest, the one filled with the most struggle, or the one in which the most is overcome.
After all, many freshman are in a period of transition socially, with the transformation from high school life to college life settings; culturally, as many are meeting new people from new places in a new area; and of course athletically, as the transition from high school to college competition is likely the biggest adjustment of all.
As such, it stands to reason that our stereotypical freshmen is typically supposed to be seen and not heard, to work hard while maintaining a certain level of anonymity, and most importantly to wait their turn in favor of the more seasoned juniors and seniors.
However, every so often an athlete enters the arena and demystifies the prevailing ideology and breaks down the structural barriers, not just athletically, but in all aspects.
Former Nyssa High School graduate and current Oregon State track star Melissa Ausman is one such person.
After a record setting four year career as a member of the Nyssa High School track team, Ausman proceeded to have arguable one of the most successful freshman campaigns in Oregon State history.
She was one of just three Beavers to qualify for the NCAA West Region preliminary track meet in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the first time since 1987 that a female thrower would represent the Beavers at an NCAA regional event, ending a drought of 27 years.
At the event, Ausman’s final throw in the discus placed her in the top five (fourth) amongst freshman in the entire west region.
At seasons end, Ausman was invited to participate in this weekend’s USATF Junior Championships at the Unversity of Oregon Eugene, a meet which features many of the top under-20 track and field athletes from across the nation and serves as a qualifier IAAF Junior World Championships.
And if those accomplishments weren’t enough, Ausman provided the exclamation point by breaking a 26 year old school record in the discus on May second with a throw of 168 feet, 13 feet longer than previous record holder Beth Nygren, a throw that ranked her eighth in the nation amongst freshman.
But while Ausman’s records and achievements may come as a surprise to the casual observer, to those who know her best, especially her coaches, they were something she always something she had in her from the very beginning.
“Melissa set her goals at the beginning of the year and consistently did what it took to accomplish them, and in this case, more than she or us expected,” OSU track coach Kelly Sullivan said. “To do that as a true freshman does not always happen and in most cases is the exception to the rule. Without a doubt her character shined by doing so well in all areas – academic, athletic, social and team leadership. What she brought to the team was maturity for a freshman that you don’t always see. Melissa is very coachable, she took responsibility for herself, took to heart academics and this opportunity, and was honored by her teammates as the Most Outstanding Field person this spring at our team banquet. Something very impressive for any freshman.”
For Ausman herself, the character traits her coaches often cite as her greatest strengths come in large part to the kind of work ethic and values she cultivated growing up and playing for Nyssa High School.
“My (high school) coaches Tom DeLong and Lee Long prepared me not only in the ring but in the weight room as well. They supported me and believed in me throughout high school which always made me strive for a better performance, they helped me to become a well rounded athlete and I’m thankful for that,” Ausman said. “My English teacher Jason Lamb never expected less than perfection in the class room which I respected and made me a better student and I transferred that philosophy on to the field as best I could. They were absolutely great coaches and teachers and I have used their life lessons to always: work hard, win, never settle for less than your best, and know that every day is a great day to be a Bulldog and Beaver.”
“Melissa truly was the first thrower we went out to recruit,” Sullivan said. “I have always loved to find small town rural, farm kids in recruiting over the years and she fit the perfect model for OSU, and our staff. I was raised on a dairy farm over in Nehalem, Oregon on the coast, so she and I connected really early on, and so I see a lot of that dairy farm family, mentality that can make a big difference in this whole world she is in.”
However the transition from high school to college athletics was not without its peaks and valleys, and when Ausman arrived on the Corvallis campus, school records and NCAA regional meets were arguably the furthest challenges from her mind.
Number one was simply adjusting to a totally different atmosphere both inside and outside of the athletic realm.
“It took me a while to adjust to Corvallis. It wasn’t until the end of winter term that I felt comfortable in my new atmosphere, being a small fish in a big pond, being away from home, and knowing that I would have to start at the bottom and work extra hard to become good or even great at the college level. The hard work wasn’t a challenge I was afraid of. It was being away from home was the hardest part. “ Ausman said. “Adjusting to the team, however, was super easy, our team is full of committed and fun girls that made me and all the other freshmen feel really welcome I love my team they are awesome. Adjusting to school was a wakeup call for me I just wasn’t expecting how much time and effort it was going to take and there is no doubt that if you think high school is hard wait till you get to college, it will make high school feel like a cake walk! But that will just make having a college degree that much more rewarding.”
In addition to the social transitions of a new life and atmosphere, the dawn of a new season would also present itself with a whole new wave of potential pitfalls, as Ausman would find out the very first meet of the season.
“The transformation wasn’t very difficult in the training aspect of things, although I remember competing in my first colligate track meet and the level of talent blew my mind,” said Ausman. “I found out fast that I was in a whole new world of athletics and the process was very humbling.”
However once the Beavers inched into the teeth of their season, the focus for Ausman and her teammates became painstakingly clear.
“My goal for this season was to break OSU’s discus record. That was it. That was all I could think about all season. It was within reach and I knew that if there was one thing I wanted to accomplish this season more than anything was just throwing 155 feet,” Ausman said. “And as a team, the others throwers and I wanted to come out with a bang. We knew that as a new program other teams wouldn’t expect much from us and we wanted to make it known that we were here to compete. As a team, I think we accomplished that in every area.”
Those strong goals espoused by Ausman and her teammates and the high standards they set themselves to reaching points to the very strong work ethic and level of commitment each brought to the table from day one.
“Melissa is a hard and consistent worker who never slacks off , ever. She leads by example, encourages others by her efforts, and then of course the results showed everyone what can happen,” Sullivan said. “During the winter indoors throwing the discus, the staff mentioned a number of times, MA threw some BIG ones today, so even way back in February, she indicated, the effort was paying off. So she, staff, and teammates saw the ‘big ones’ were there, what that meant was not exactly known until the time came for her to see the stars/moon align.”
Ausman cited that her breakout point in the season came at the University of Oregon meet, an event in which she broke her own personal record, relieving what at the time had been a monkey on her back and setting herself up for her university record throw just a short time later.
But although the record had been in her sights all season, when the throw came, perhaps the most surprised person on the field was Ausman herself.
“I was extremely surprised when I heard the number announced. I remember thinking holy cow that’s a lot farther that 155, I wasn’t expecting that at all,” My final throw is the one I am most proud of taking that day. I knew that I wanted to break the school record and I knew it was possible but I didn’t know that I would do so with a throw that exceeded it by 13 feet. I would have been over joyed to break it by an inch!”
“The evening she had the 4-5 throws over 160 was one very special night for her, staff and teammates for sure,” Sullivan said. “She needed that evening, she had worked too hard. She had a few disappointing meets where it didn’t come together, but that evening confirmed ‘Yes, I am good,’ and especially when the series of big throws versus, maybe one big one that might be seen as a fluke. That night against great competition she showed everyone there, ‘I am someone to watch for in the future.’”
And with the official season now firmly in the rearview mirror, Ausman has been afforded the opportunity to take stock in her achievements, as well as turn an eye toward the future.
“To me it (the season) meant that you can never dream too big. It’s an eye opener to the fact that anything is possible,” Ausman said of her overall experiences. “Everything I’ve accomplished so far are all things I have dreamed about but wasn’t sure that it was possible for me. Coming from Nyssa and competing as a true freshman, having such a good first year was awesome and I’m so thankful for all the opportunities, and support I have had this season. At this point the main thing is to always stay humble and just keep striving for better and never settle.”
“We won’t put any ceiling on what she can or will do. Staying healthy, having fun, enjoying the process, not trying to get from here to there too quickly, but with a steady long term plan she, will make continuous improvement,” Sullivan said of Ausman’s future. “She has all the tools to be great and she is one heck of an athlete. But even more importantly she is one heck of a young lady and person – a lot of congrats to her parents, family and community of Nyssa.”