National champion thrower Hannah Carson was one of Texas Tech’s most coveted track and field signees in 2012, and then her college debut season ended minutes after it started.
Last March, Carson uncorked a 166-foot javelin throw on her first attempt — good enough to set a school record and win the Willie Williams Invitational at Arizona — and then suffered a torn knee ligament on her second attempt.
Oh, well. It’s not as if she didn’t know what came next.
“It was just a matter of completing the rehab,” said Carson, who has a history of knee injuries. “I never really doubted myself that I could come back, being that it’s the fourth time.”
Carson recovered, got her freshman-year eligibility restored and quickly resumed her stature as one of the nation’s top young javelin throwers. Her throw of 171 feet, 1 inch last week at the Texas Relays in Austin has her ranked third in the NCAA this week.
And that’s after a year of rehabilitation and using a shorter approach.
“We’re doing baby steps and giving her an opportunity to compete and kind of get back,” Tech coach Wes Kittley said, “and I think you’ll see her get better every week.”
The Red Raiders have their first home outdoor meet of the season Saturday, hosting the Texas Tech Open at the Fuller Track Complex. Carson is hoping for an injury-free outdoor season to capitalize on her potential.
She turned down Arizona State, UCLA, LSU and San Diego State to continue Tech’s recent pipeline of track stars from the greater Phoenix area. The list includes NCAA champion triple jumper Bryce Lamb who, like Carson, is from Chandler, Ariz., and Lamb’s cousins, former Tech all-America sprinters Terra and Taylor Evans from Phoenix South Mountain.
Carson attracted recruiting attention comparable to the others, having flashed natural talent for the javelin from an early age. There’s no javelin throw in Arizona high school track, so she competed in club track, sometimes against college athletes.
“They’d be like, ‘What college are you going to?’” Carson said. “At one point in time, I could say, ‘I’m in junior high. I just finished the eighth grade.’
“In eighth grade, I had thrown 173, which is what I’m throwing right now. That’s unheard of. They were like, ‘What, you’re in junior high still?’ It was funny hearing that.”
Carson has also been a sprinter, a 5-8 high jumper and made her mark in the hammer throw, the discus and the shot put, all of which belies her 5-3, 135-pound stature.
But she’s had to be resilient to excel.
Carson’s knee surgery last April was her fourth since February 2009 and far from the most complicated. As a high school sophomore, she suffered a catastrophic injury in a soccer match, suffering tears to the anterior cruciate, medial collateral, posterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments and the medial meniscus cartilage.
Just like last year, it came right after she’d done something good — in this case, scoring a goal on a breakaway.
“I saw the ball go into the goal, and the goalkeeper was still coming out at me,” Carson said. “I tried to jump up, but I was still at full speed and jumping forward as well. She came down and crashed into my knee and I didn’t get up.”
Carson had surgery on a lateral meniscus in July 2011, just before she arrived at Tech and then another when the recovery from that surgery did not go as planned.
No wonder, when asked about goals, Carson doesn’t start with distances.
“Honestly, I have to stay healthy first,” she said, “because I’ve been throwing the same (distance) since eighth grade, because I keep getting hurt. My main goal is to stay healthy this year and get a real approach. As soon as I do that, I feel like that’ll be the key to having me throw farther.”
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Event: Texas Tech Open
Where: Fuller Track Complex
Rankings: Texas Tech women No. 13, Texas Tech men No. 14.