For a two-time national champion in college, Erica Oawster had a relatively modest high school career.
As a thrower on the Centennial track team, Oawster placed sixth twice in the discus at state meets while never qualifying for state in shot put.
However, she attracted college recruiters with her potential when they saw her in camps, and she improved immensely at Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
This year, Oawster capped her career with Division III national championships in both shot put, indoors, and discus, outdoors.
“Going into college, my goal was to be a four-time All-American, and a national champion in discus,” said Oawster, who graduated from UWEC on May 25, but missed the ceremony because of track nationals. “I was heavily recruited for discus.”
Oawster got her discus gold medal — and fourth All-America designation — by throwing 160-4 at outdoor nationals in Geneva, Ohio, on May 23. She had thrown 168-0, tops in the nation, in a qualifier just before nationals. That was her third trip to outdoor nationals; she was second as a junior with 162-7 at La Crosse, WI.
At indoor nationals, Oawster won shot put with a throw of 48-5 1/2 in Boston on March 9. She placed fourth with 46-11 her junior year in Birmingham, AL. Her career best was 49-11.
”I am very happy with the way I ended my college career,” she said. “I am humbled and honored that God blessed me with this outcome.”
After barely missing nationals in discus as a freshman, she tried to convince her coach to let her stop doing shot put, in order to maximize her discus prospects. “But he saw potential in me that I didn’t see then,” Oawster relates. And sure enough, her shot put came around, too.
These last two national meets were a great way to go out.
“That was my last discus throw. It was a bittersweet moment walking off the track for the last time as an athlete,” Oawster said. “It is time for me to move on, which will be a tough transition, but I’m excited to use everything I have learned to help coach athletes.”
Oawster got her degree in Organizational Communication with a minor in coaching. She will stay at Eau Claire to work with Athletes in Action, a Christian group — “I will be helping athletes grow in their faith and learn how to bring God into their sport” — while also serving as a Bluegolds assistant coach.
She made All-American four times despite being relatively a twerp physically, 5-foot-8 and muscular but lean. “I am one of the smaller collegiate throwers you will find,” she cheerfully acknowledged.
In high school, Oawster placed sixth at state with 129-2 as a junior and 127-2 as a senior. She didn’t make her best throws at state. Her career bests with the Cougars were 140-9 in discus and 37-4 1/2 in shot put. She played basketball through ninth grade but gave up the sport after having foot surgery.
At UWEC, working with veteran throws coach Paul Conlin and two other assistants who are prepping for Olympic trials, Roger Steen and Curt Jensen, Oawster vastly improved her technique. She absorbed how to approach out of the back circle, how to sweep her legs, how to hit all the correct positions.
“They are all great coaches and I have learned so much from them,” she said. “Throwing is a very technical sport, so every little detail matters.”
Also invaluable was the weight-room coaching. “I had not done much with weights in high school,” she said. At college, she not only got significantly stronger but learned how to pace the weight training so her throwing would peak at the end of the season.
The training was low reps, high weights, to build strength. Her personal bests in the weight room were 280 pounds in squat, 175 in bench and 175 in hang clean. She had to be smart, though, nursing hip injuries from all the strenuous activity.
In the WIAC, Oawster was shot put champion as a senior after placing third twice, and won discus as a sophomore and junior, also placing second as a senior and fifth as a sophomore.
“Eau Claire is in the best conference in the country for track, so I knew I would be throwing against the best,” said Oawster, who was recruited by head coach Chip Schneider.
After four intense years in a demanding individual sport, Oawster is ready to take it easy. Asked if she’d consider something like power lifting to stay in competitions, she said, “No, I think I’ve done enough lifting. If I do anything from now on, it will be in rec leagues, like softball or basketball. Just for fun.”