A year ago, Altoona graduate Chris Carper stood amongst the NCAA's best javelin competitors in Eugene, Oregon at the national championships and wondered if he belonged among such an elite group.
Saturday, Carper will enter the competition seeded first after a throw of 73.09 meters at the NCAA East Preliminary Round championships, which won him the preliminary title.
"It was a really exciting moment, and I didn't realize how far I threw it until I saw it on the scoreboard," said Carper, a senior from Robert Morris University. "I don't want it to end there. Last year I was nervous, but now I've been there so I don't have to be nervous."
Carper will be squaring off against competitors who have thrown better than his personal-best 73.09-meter mark in nationals such as Kentucky's Raymond Dykstra, who finished second at the eastern preliminary with a throw of 72.16.
"He's not going in with the mindset that he's the favorite," Robert Morris assistant track and field coach Nash Oven said. "He's not the No. 1 ranked thrower in the country, he just happened to throw the best at preliminaries.
"He understands that there are people who have thrown farther, but he'll be comfortable standing in line with them and know he belongs. He'll be a guy people are looking at, and he just has to go out and do what he does."
Carper also qualified for the NCAA championships a year ago and finished 19th in the country. This season, Carper has extended his personal-best mark several times and thrown more than 70 meters in four separate meets.
"I've learned some new techniques, and I have been doing a lot more with weight training," Carper said. "I've been able to do a lot more of that this season, and that helps a lot."
Oven said there's plenty of technique to work on when it comes to throwing the javelin.
"You have to have the javelin in the right place at the right time coming down the runway with the right speed," Oven said. "He's been more patient down the runway, making his arms longer and getting himself into a more powerful position."
Carper, who graduated earlier this year with a degree in industrial engineering, became the first male athlete in Robert Morris history to qualify for the NCAA championships a year ago and will be the last in the foreseeable future as the school is ending its men's track and field program.
"I would love to see Chris end up on the podium," Oven said. "It would be fantastic and show everybody that this small little school in Western Pa. can perform on the big stage. If he does what he's capable of, he can do it, and no one can take it away from him.
"He'll show the university and the people who have been following Robert Morris track and field how good he is, and it would be a nice way to cap things off."
Following the championships, Carper plans to train for the U.S. Track and Field championships and begin a search for a job.
"I'm not going in thinking I'm going to win," Carper said. "I just want to set a personal record and get All-American honors and whatever happens, happens."
For Carper to reach that level, he'll have to finish in the top eight Saturday. The javelin is set to begin at 3:35 p.m.
"It's going to be totally different for him this year," Oven said. "Freshman year in Bloomington, Indiana he didn't even throw with an injury. Sophomore year he had a solid throw, and junior year he got through and made it to nationals.
"I think he would have loved to have thrown better last year, but that experience for him was invaluable, and this year will be really exciting."