Julie Labonte entered the final round of the NCAA shot put championships in fifth place on Saturday.
In the final round, on her sixth throw of the day, Labonte’s toss went 56 feet, 8 inches.
It was her last-ever throw as a Wildcat, and it was good enough for fourth place. Good enough, also, for the ninth All-American nod of her career.
She’s certainly come a long way from the Labonte of 2010: a freshman import from Quebec who could barely speak a lick of English. Thinking back, Labonte laughs.
As the story goes, UA assistant coach Craig Carter was checking the Internet, scanning the top throws for world juniors, when he came across Labonte’s name. He found something he hoped might be her Facebook page, and sent her a message. He asked if she could call.
Labonte said no, she couldn’t speak English. But Carter persisted, and eventually made it work. Labonte, whose only other offer was from UNC-Charlotte, was a Wildcat.
Her freshman year, she claimed fourth place at the outdoor championships. Then came her sophomore year in 2011. UA coach Fred Harvey said it was a sophomore season unlike any he had ever seen, at least for a thrower.
“Never,” he said. “It’s rare, especially in that event, because maturity means a lot to throwers.”
That year, Labonte didn’t lose a single shot put competition to a college opponent, a streak that stretched 12 meets. To top it off, she won both the NCAA indoor and outdoor titles in the event.
Labonte has amassed some impressive credentials in her time in Tucson: two-time NCAA champion, four-time Pac-12 champion, nine-time NCAA All-American and 2012 Canadian Olympian.
“Her work ethic in being a national champion,” Harvey said, “that showed our men’s and women’s teams the type of manner we want to see. She was a great student-athlete. She’s wonderful as far as recruiting was concerned. When kids would come on campus, they’d see her athleticism and her intelligence at the level she’s competed at. She meant the world to this program.”
Here’s a more in-depth look back at the UA women’s season, along with what the future holds.
Team finish: 22nd place (NCAA), 5th place (Pac-12)
- The senior from Canada struggled with a hamstring injury, but still had a very solid season. In shot put, she placed fourth at the NCAA outdoor championships, and came in first place at five meets throughout the season (LSU Alumni Gold, Jim Click Shootout, Arizona State Invitational, UA-ASU-NAU Double Dual and the Willie Williams Classic). In discus, she placed first at four meets (LSU Alumni Gold, ASU Invitational, UA-ASU-NAU Double Dual and Jim Click Shootout).
- Elvin Kibet:
- The redshirt junior’s great year started during cross-country, as she led the Wildcats to a runner-up finish at the NCAA championships. At the Pac-12 track and field championships in May, she finished in third place in both the 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter runs. Finally, at the NCAA outdoor championships in Eugene, Oregon, Kibet placed fourth in the 10,000 and 14th in the 5,000.
Coming and going
Stepping out: Labonte, thrower; Shapri Romero, sprinter; Tamara Pridgett, sprinter; Amber Passalaqua, combined events; Alyssa Hasslen, thrower; Meg Bellino, middle distance
Stepping up: First and foremost, Kibet will be the face of the women’s program next year, as a performer and as a leader.
“I like to call her my silent killer,” Harvey said. “The girls on the team jokingly call her ‘big mama.’”
There’s also Nnenya Hailey, the Clemson transfer who finished 9th at the NCAA championships for the Wildcats in the 400-meter hurdles.
Plus, Harvey is excited about incoming freshman hurdler Tiana Bonds, who hails from Las Vegas.
“She’s a young lady that’s going have a major impact to the team immediately.”