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updated: 2/7/2013 10:45 PM

Grant throwers extend the tradition

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  • JOE LEWNARD/jlewnard@dailyherald.comBrandon Lombardino will throw for Arkansas State in the next phase of his athletic career.

      JOE LEWNARD/jlewnard@dailyherald.comBrandon Lombardino will throw for Arkansas State in the next phase of his athletic career.

  • Grant's Melissa Dunham is headed to Dartmouth, where she'll continue to compete in the throws.

       Grant's Melissa Dunham is headed to Dartmouth, where she'll continue to compete in the throws.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 

The red Arkansas State T-shirt that Brandon Lombardino sported while flanked by his parents Tom and Kim, as the Grant senior signed his national letter of intent Wednesday, looked perfectly sized.

Three years ago, the same T-shirt might have hung on him like a poncho.

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"I came in at 145 pounds as a freshman," Lombardino said. "I worked my butt off."

Today, he's thick, looks like a defensive end and fills out a T-shirt well. He stands 6 feet 3 and weighs 240 pounds. You don't have to be a math whiz like Melissa Dunham, Lombardino's classmate and a fellow Division I-bound shot and discus thrower, to know that calculates to 95 pounds that Lombardino has put on his frame since he began high school.

And it's muscle.

"He was a skinny guy," Grant track coach Jim Cramer said. "He really made big gains after not playing basketball and football."

Lombardino's decision to forego being a three-sport athlete his senior year to focus on his shot and discus-throwing paid off. The 2012 Class 3A state runner-up in the discus will compete for Arkansas State, which is located in Jonesboro in northeastern Arkansas.

"I really liked Arkansas State," Lombardino said. "I thought it was a great school, in a great area, and they have a really good throw squad there."

Dunham is equally thrilled to accept an offer to compete for Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Like Lombardino, the senior placed second in the discus in Class 3A last spring and has competed at state since sophomore year.

"I loved pretty much everything about (Dartmouth)," said Dunham, who plans to study mathematics at the Ivy League school and pursue a master's degree in administration. "The people are amazing, it's beautiful, and it's like the No. 1 undergraduate program in the nation. So that was a plus. And the coach (Michelle Clayton) is so nice and phenomenal."

No wonder Dunham clicked with Clayton.

"She was an all-American hammer thrower and she's about my size," the 5-6 Dunham said. "She wants me to try throwing hammer, so I'm really looking forward to that."

Neither Dunham nor Lombardino entered high school with expectations of track and field eventually being a sport that would help land them dollars for college. Lombardino started throwing the shot and discus his freshman year, in part, because his brother Kyle was tossing around the weights. Kyle is now throwing for Illinois State.

Little brother wound up setting the school record in the discus by the middle of his sophomore year and placed fifth (169-4) at state.

"My goals starting off were to get the (school) records for the shot and disc," said Lombardino, who's still chasing Kyle's shot-put record.

At state last season, Lombardino winged the discus 170 feet, 4 inches, finishing behind only Cary-Grove senior Josh Freeman (181-3).

It's a new, better and stronger Lombardino today. By the end of his junior year, he weighed 210 pounds.

"I've been looking for a state championship," said Lombardino, who plans to throw the shot, discus, hammer and weight at ASU. "I should have gotten it last year, but I had tough competition and I didn't perform exactly like I wanted to. But I feel I'm really prepared for this next season. I don't think I've stopped training since last year."

Dunham is equally motivated to finish her high school career strong. And so far, so good, as she just helped captain Grant's cheerleading team to a third-place finish at state.

When it comes to Grant's proud history of great female shot and discus throwers, she's no dummy.

Danielle Eiler (East Carolina), Cassie Howard (Eastern Illinois), Kari Richards (Western Michigan), Cora Caulfield (Northern Illinois), Tori Ziegler (Illinois State) and Bailey Wagner (Georgia Tech) all competed at the collegiate level. Dunham is the Bulldogs' first Division I thrower since three-time state champ Wagner, who graduated in 2008.

"I just feel very honored to be a part of that," said Dunham, who's the fifth female Bulldogs thrower to have her picture placed on Grant's wall that lists those who have placed at state. "I feel like I'm representing Grant well."

She does that with her academic success alone. She scored a 28 on her ACT and boasts a 4.6 GPA (4.0 scale).

Hello, Ivy League.

"I work really hard," Dunham said. "My parents have always told me that if I work hard, I can accomplish anything. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to go to an Ivy League school. I think that's really cool."

Two throwers who throw themselves into their sport.

Throwing a celebration Wednesday seemed appropriate.

jaguilar@dailyherald.com

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