LACEY — One of the United States’ top high school javelin throwers resides in Olympia, attends a school with an enrollment of 130 students and is part of a team without an on-campus track.
Meet Karen Bulger, a junior at tiny Northwest Christian High School, which has won seven consecutive girls state cross country team titles and has cranked out four state champion distance runners in track and field since 2010.
Now it has produced Bulger, who threw a javelin 161 feet, 5 inches last weekend at the Pasco Invitational. That ranks as the No. 1 throw in the country for a high school girl this season, according to Track and Field News and Athletic.net, which tracks high school times and marks from all 50 states.
Bulger’s throw was “uncorked perfectly,” said Northwest Christian coach Mike Michael, on what he labeled a blustery day.
The throw — Bulger’s sixth and final of the competition — was a 4-foot improvement from her previous career best of 157-4 set March 30 at the Kent-Meridian Invitational.
“I didn’t think it went as far as it went,” she said.
Her mark is the best by a Thurston County female thrower since North Thurston’s Leslie
Erickson, a three-time state champion who set a state record (old implement) of 170-6 at the Class 4A state track and field meet in 1999.
Bulger, who transferred to Northwest Christian for its academics after spending her freshman and sophomore years at Olympia High School, is no stranger to big meets. She won the 15-16 age division in the girls javelin in July at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics in Baltimore with a throw of 135-9.
She made the transition to the javelin after competing in the softball throw in middle school as a member of Barron Park Striders, and she participated in multiple Hershey’s Track and Field Games in Hershey, Pa.
“You can’t throw a javelin like you can throw a ball,” Bulger said. “I had to learn to not throw it like a ball. After I understood that, it became easy.”
Working with assistant coach Tad Sowers, who competed for Whitman College in the decathlon, Bulger has quickly progressed. She went from a 144-4 season debut in mid-March to 161-5 in five meets.
Bulger, who is 5-foot-4, doesn’t necessarily fit the physical profile of an elite thrower. Usually height helps in generating torque for the throw, but Bulger gets a lot of power from her lower body.
Sowers, who began working with Bulger in late February, said Bulger primarily used her upper body and muscled the throw before this spring. He said he didn’t do much with Bulger’s technique, instead fine-tuning her footwork to make sure she took advantage of her leg strength.
“I didn’t think she’d get there this quickly,” he said.
Bulger’s season goal of hitting 150 already is crossed off her list.
“That’s all I wanted to hit,” Bulger said. “Now that I’ve reached it, I have to set a new one.”
That next goal might be a state record. Washington’s all-time record for juniors is 162-10, set in 2010 by Othello’s Christine Kirkwood, who now throws for Washington State.
Bulger owns school records in the javelin and shot put (40-6), and she could be the school’s first state champion in a throwing event. Her early-season throws have led Division I coaches to take notice.
Sowers said Bulger has yet to put together a perfect throw.
“I’m looking forward for her to put it all together,” he said.
IN ELITE COMPANY
Northwest Christian junior Karen Bulger’s throw of 161 feet, 5 inches ranks first in the country. Here are the nation’s top 10 marks this spring, according to Track and Field News and Athletic.net.
161-5: Karen Bulger, Northwest Christian
158-3: Rebekah Wales, Monroe, La.
156-11: Haley Crouser, Gresham, Ore.*
154-1: Nicolle Murphy, Arkansas City, Kan.
153-3: Dani Plank, Gardner, Kan.
152-1: Sarah Firestone, Mercersburg, Pa.
151-0: Megan Glasmann, Park City, Utah
146-1: Jenna Lucas, McDonald, Pa.
141-3: Keiryn Swenson, Maize, Kan.
140-3: Ashley Alexander, Monroe, Wash.
*Crouser set a national high school record in 2012 of 181-2; signed with Oregon.Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org theolympian.com/southsoundsports @MegWochnick