“I’ve heard that countless times,” said Amy Haapanen. “Sometimes a stranger will say it and I wonder, ‘Do you know me?’ It turns out they don’t realize it’s my last name.”
Haapanen, a strapping UCSB senior from Manteca, has been making things happen for the Gaucho track and field team. The Big West named her the Female Field Athlete of the Year after she put on a throwing clinic at the conference championships. Haapanen shattered the meet record by more than 11 feet as she won the hammer with a toss of 206Ê¹3Ê°; she won the shot put with a school record of 52Ê¹3Â½Ê°; and she placed second in the discus with a mark of 171Ê¹11Ê°, another school record.
UCSB finished second in both the men’s and women’s team scoring at the Big West Championships and will send 20 athletes to the NCAA West Regionals this weekend in Eugene, Oregon. They hope to qualify for the NCAA Nationals, happening June 6-9 in Sacramento, and Haapanen has the highest aspirations among them.
“I’d really like to make the national finals and be an All American,” she said. “I’d have to be one of the top eight American throwers.” Haapanen, born in the U.S. of Finnish and Panamanian parents, is ranked sixth on the NCAA women’s hammer list with her throw of 213Ê¹10Â¼Ê° in April. The leader is Georgia’s Jenny Dahlgren, who is from Argentina.
Gaucho distance runner Stephanie Rothstein, the Big West Female Track Athlete of the Year for the second time, will be vying for another All-America honor. She finished eighth in the women’s 10,000 meters at the 2006 NCAA meet and set a conference record of 33 minutes, 26.79 seconds this year. Her time ranks 11th nationally.
“We’re proud of our team and what they’ve done this year,” said Haapanen. “Track and field is an individual sport, but it has a team aspect when you’re training and competing in the conference.” A few years ago, the Gauchos brought thunderstix to the Big West meet and created a din during the races. The conference subsequently banned noisemakers.
The throwers have a special bond on the UCSB team. Haapanen and Heather Quinn-another senior who is the school’s second all-time performer in the women’s shot put, discus, and hammer-will graduate together next month. They helped build a weight-lifting site in the northwest corner of UCSB’s Pauley Track.
“Everything around here we’ve built with our bare hands,” said John Dagata, the Gauchos’ throws and jumps coach. “This is the best group I’ve ever been a part of, the most sophisticated and most committed. I don’t remember a day in five years that Amy or Heather missed a practice.”
Haapanen and Quinn were multi-sport athletes
in high school, but practicing the techniques of three different throws-along with strength training-has kept them at the track year ’round. Haapanen took a redshirt year in 2006 and trained in Canada under the guidance of Anatoly Bondarchuk, the 1972 Olympic hammer champion from Russia. The hammer, a heavy metal ball at the end of a chain, evolved from sledgehammer throwing contests in Scotland during the 15th and 16th centuries. The women’s hammer was added to the Olympics in 2000.
“I miss the contact of other sports, being able to push people around,” said Haapanen, who played basketball in high school. “But this gives me a shot at the Olympics.” An accomplished performer on the piano and flute, Haapanen said the rigor of learning music has helped determine her approach to athletics.
Quinn played on a state champion club volleyball team in Orange County and said she may take a crack at beach volleyball in the future. She appears capable of putting a few craters in the sand.