What a difference a spin move makes.
On Saturday morning, Raven Saunders was virtually unknown when it came to high school track and field. She was a state champion in the shot put, but wasn't considered elite. Two schools were interested in her talent: South Carolina State and Queens College.
But later in the day, she proved that she is among the best female high school shot putters this nation has ever seen. She competed in the JDL Holiday Invitational in Winston-Salem, N.C., and had a put for the ages. The Bulldogs senior put the shot 53 feet, 81/4 inches to record the fourth best indoor mark by a female high school athlete. And just like that, her name - and results - went coast-to-coast. Schools such as Oregon, Duke, LSU and Virginia Tech were suddenly interested in Saunders.
Only three girls have had better indoor tosses at the high school level. Michelle Carter of Red Oak, Texas, owns the record of 54-91/2, set in 2003. Maggie Ewen of St. Francis, Minn. is second with a put of 54-1 in 2013. Laura Gerraughty of Nashua, N.H. is third with 53-11 in 2001.
Carter went on to compete in the 2008 Olympics and is the current American record holder at 66-43/4. Ewen is currently a freshman at the University of Arizona, while Gerraughty was a 10-time All-American at the University of North Carolina. She also was on the 2004 Olympic team.
And then there's Saunders, who benefited in a change in technique.
"It was the result of implementing what I was practicing," said Saunders, an All-Lowcountry selection last spring after winning the Class AA state title with a put of 35-101/2 and the discus with a heave of 136 feet, 9 inches. "After the state meet last year, I decided the spin move might be better than the glide. I've been working and working and working to get better."
The spin move is more complex than the glide and was popularized in 1972 by former world-record holder Aleksander Baryshnikov of the Soviet Union. The spin move was created by his coach, Viktor Alexeyev. It involves rotating like a discus thrower and using rotational movement and momentum for power.
"I knew going into this year I was going to have to develop a whole new work ethic," Saunders said. "I went from 90 to 100 percent to 110 percent. I started eating, sleeping and thinking shot put. In fact, I don't even hang out with my friends."
Saunders seems like a prohibitive favorite to break the state outdoor record in May. The current record is 44-7, set by Westside's Ayokka Green in 1993.
"I just have to stay healthy and work hard," Saunders said. "The crazy thing is that when I started my high school career, I looked up the record and saw Michelle Carter's name. I wanted to be as good, if not better, than her."
Saunders' hard work also extends to the classroom. She has a B average and will take college prep courses at Trident Technical College next semester.
She will continue to make the rounds on the indoor track and field circuit.
"I will go into the meets as if it were practice," she said. "That way, I can keep the nerves down."
And the distances up.
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