By Matt Bowker
As a freshman, Kristen Kowalski never expected to be a competitive javelin thrower. She never expected to smash school records while on her way to becoming the best javelin thrower in Mercer County, either.
But just four years later, Kowalski has done all that and more. As she prepares to move on to the next stage in her throwing career, Kowalski leaves quite the legacy behind at Robbinsville. A two-time Mercer County champion, she also holds a Central Jersey Group II sectional title, a Group II title, and the school’s girls’ javelin record. All that helped her earn a spot on the Monmouth University track and field squad.
The thrower found a passion for field events when she first tried the sport in middle school.
“I started track in 6th grade, which was only discus and shot put,” Kowalski said. “And I really enjoyed it, so I decided to continue with track and throwing in high school.”
Once she reached high school, Kowalski was intrigued by javelin, which was not offered in middle school. She was drawn immediately to the event, “because it was really different than shot put and discus.”
At first, she wasn’t sure if javelin was the right event for her, and the idea of eventually becoming a county champion did not even cross her mind.
“I just learned javelin my freshman year so it took some getting used to because the form is very different,” Kowalski said. “Once I started throwing in the hundreds that year, I became more confident.”
Robbinsville High girls’ track coach Mike Walker saw something special in Kowalski during her freshman season.
“Kristen had talent for the javelin right away as a freshman,” Walker said. “She is very short for a thrower, but she has great quickness and power behind her throws.”
Kowalski consistently improved over the next three seasons, and her hard work paid off late in her junior season. In the Mercer County Championship meet, Kowalski bested all other javelin throwers in the area, winning with a throw of 106 feet. Kowalski was the only competitor to throw over 100 feet on the day, and took first place by a margin of nearly nine feet.
Two weeks later, Kowalski rolled into the NJSIAA Central Group II sectional meet looking to take the next step towards becoming a champion. With another dominant performance, and the best throw of her career up to that point, Kowalski again sealed a first-place finish with a throw of 111-feet, 9-inches.
After failing to place in the NJSIAA Group II Championships the next week, Kowalski dedicated herself to returning to the meet as a senior. After three seasons on the field hockey team, she made the tough decision to forgo her senior season to focus on track.
“I wasn’t happy with my performance my junior year at states, but I took the experience from it,” Kowalski said.
And the results were noticeable. Kowalski began her senior track and field season throwing within feet of the school record, which sat at a not-so-distant 120 feet. By mid-May, Kowalski recorded throws of over 120 feet in practice, but to earn the record, she would have to beat that distance in the pressure of a meet.
In her return to the NJSIAA Central Group II Sectionals, Kowalski did just that. With a throw of 126-9, she shattered the school record by nearly seven feet, and reached her goal by earning a spot in the Group II Championship meet.
Kowalski entered the meet knowing that it in order beat out the best of the best, she had to put forth her own top performance, which called for a few adjustments in her approach, as well as some sunshine.
“I had to slow down my run up, and speed up my cross overs to get a more aggressive attack,” Kowalski said. “If I was fast at the end and under control I knew it would be over 120. Also, I consider myself a warm-weather thrower, and that day it was very nice out so it was overall a perfect day.”
It was a perfect day fit for a perfect throw—130 feet, to be exact. Kowalski dismantled her own personal best to claim the Group II Championship, sending her to the state Meet of Champions, where she finished in 18th place.
Walker never doubted his star thrower heading into the big meet.
“I am not completely surprised by her winning the Group II title,” Walker said. “She has a knack of performing in the big meets, and she just had the perfect day at the Group II State Championships. Everything came together at the right time.”
During her time at Robbinsville High School, Kowalski also excelled in the discus and shot put events. As a senior, Kowalski finished first among Robbinsville throwers at sectionals in the discus, and improved in shot put over her high school career.
In the fall, Kowalski plans to attend Monmouth University, where she will continue to compete in javelin at the collegiate level. With moving on to the next level comes new trials, but she says she is more than ready to meet them head-on.
“I definitely think it will be more of a challenge because you’re facing a whole new group of people, and I’m more than excited to face that challenge,” Kowalski said. “I think I will learn a lot more and how to become a better thrower.”