Grant's Dunham earns cheers
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Gilbert R. Boucher IIemail@example.com Melissa Dunham of Grant throws the discus during the North Suburban Conference girls track meet Thursday at Vernon Hills High School. Dunham won the event.
If she's strong enough and athletic enough to lift a flyer above her shoulders and basket-catch her fellow cheerleader, suffice it to say, Melissa Dunham can fly a discus and wing it around.
Which Grant's 5-foot-6 twirling bundle of energy did during last Thursday's North Suburban Conference girls track and field championships at Vernon Hills.
The cheerleader earned cheers.
Dunham, who anchors the position of base when cheerleading, showed she has the potential to be Grant's next great thrower.
"I'm really pumped right now," said Dunham, a sophomore who was so excited that it looked like she was going to perform a series of back flips on the infield.
Dunham delivered season-best and winning throws of 40 feet, 1 inch in the shot put and 124-8 in the discus. Her previous personal records were 38-4 and 114-4, respectively.
"Her off-season lifting has certainly helped her," Grant coach Jacquelyn Randall said.
Grant's strength has long been its muscle. No Lake County team churned out more dynamic shot and discus throwers in the first decade of the 21st century than the Bulldogs, who were under the direction of Jim Cramer, who stepped down a couple of years ago as the Bulldogs' head coach.
Starting with Cassie Howard in 2002, Grant was represented downstate in the throws for seven consecutive years. Kari Richards followed Howard. Then it was Danielle Eiler, Cora Caulfield, Tori Ziegler and Bailey Wagner. Like Howard (Eastern Illinois), Richards (Western Illinois), Eiler (East Carolina), Caulfield (Northern Illinois), Ziegler (Illinois State) and Wagner (Georgia Tech) all went on to throw at the collegiate level.
But since Wagner captured the discus downstate in 2008 — her third state title, following back-to-back firsts in the shot put in 2006 and 2007 — Grant has been shutout.
Dunham and Becca McMullin look to end the two-year drought Friday in the Class 3A Huntley sectional.
Dunham surpassed the state-qualifying standards of 37-6 and 117-6 in the shot put and discus, respectively, at the NSC meet. McMullin (38-5, second) bettered the mark in the shot put, while heaving the discus 112 feet (third place).
During most of this spring, Dunham used a partial-rotational throw (a Southern African) in the discus. She stuck with that form through prelims at conference, but then figured she may as well "go for it," she said, in the finals.
It was the first time she executed a full-rotational throw, and she heaved it long and in the arena.
A year ago, mind you, she competed in the JV conference meet.
"I just take a deep breath before I go," Dunham said. "I make sure I'm calm. I make sure I have a good grip on the shot or discus, pull through and hope for the best."
Her best Friday could land her downstate.
Maybe then the cheerleader's teammates will hoist her.
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