When shot putter Emma Vasen ’22 arrived in New Haven last fall, she immediately faced a challenging decision. After also being recruited to Yale as a softball player, Vasen felt what so many athletes know all too well: burned out. In a time of immense change and new beginnings, Vasen wondered if she should embark on a softball journey that she was no longer passionate about or dedicate her time to the sport she really loved — track and field. Seven months later, Vasen has seen her decision pay off.
On Feb. 23, Vasen stepped up to the shot put circle at the Yale men’s and women’s track and field team’s biggest meet of the indoor season — the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships — and hurled the four-pound implement further than any other Yale women’s thrower had before. Her throw of 14.72 meters was not only more than a meter better than the second-best indoor throw in program history, but also surpassed the outdoor shot put record by nearly 0.40 meters.
“I had wanted the school record at the meet before [Ivy Heps], and there I was like, ‘Today’s the day,’” Vasen said. “But it didn’t happen. So then I was like, ‘At Heps, it has got to happen.’ I was really nervous for it beforehand and had two really bad throws to start the series. So the third throw had to happen, and it ended up being good enough that I made the finals. … It was my fifth throw [that broke the record]. I got really hyped and really had good connection.”
Vasen’s throwing journey began her sophomore year, when she started competing for Ocean Township High School in New Jersey. Though she was new to the sport, Vasen proved to be a quick learner and managed to break the Spartans’ school record in shot put during her first season on the team.
Vasen showed steady improvement in her junior and senior years of high school, earning multiple invitations to New Balance Nationals Indoor — one of the biggest meets for high school athletes. She earned sixth place in the second-best division at New Balance in 2017 and took seventh place in the top division at the event in 2018 with a throw of 45.25 feet. Vasen’s accomplishments earned her the Shore Track Coaches Association Girls Indoor Field Athlete of the Year award in 2018.
Despite her high school accomplishments, Vasen’s transition to collegiate track and field was not without its challenges. In fact, upon her arrival to the team, Yale’s team lacked a throws coach. With just two throwing teammates on the women’s team and two on the men’s side, Vasen and her teammates relied on each other to improve and hone their skills early on in the season.
“We would just kind of coach each other, video each other and send it to other people,” Vasen said. “We have a pretty small throws group already, so we just kind of bounce ideas off each other. … There wasn’t as much of a plan to it. It was just about going out and getting reps.”
Fortunately for the Elis, Duke Taylor joined the Yale track and field staff as the throws coach around two months ago in time for the indoor championship season. Taylor, who hails from East Canton, Ohio, came to Yale after coaching at Malone University — a school at which Taylor also earned a number of accolades as a student-athlete. Malone was a three-time NCAA Division II first-team All-American in discus and also captured a national title as a senior in the event.
Despite the Yale throws group being much smaller than the group he coached at Malone, Taylor explained that his throwers have been very open to his coaching philosophy and strategy. According to Taylor, Vasen’s resilience and willingness to buy into his approach have been critical to her early success.
“Emma has a tremendous work ethic and is extremely coachable,” Taylor said. “She has a very high motor and never wants to take days off or take shortcuts. She usually gets mad at me when I tell her to take a day off. … Emma is a very explosive athlete with a high ceiling, but the biggest reason for her success and why she will continue to be very successful is because she is always the hardest worker in the room.”
With the outdoor season already underway, Vasen further demonstrated her coachability by taking up discus and hammer throw — two events in which she had no previous experience.
Like Taylor, Vasen’s teammates have been equally impressed by her incendiary introduction to collegiate track and field. Fellow thrower Evy Roberts ’19 has been especially inspired by Vasen’s composure during high-stakes meets and her commitment to every aspect of training — from lifts in the weight room to rehab in the athletic training facility.
“It’s been really amazing to practice with [Vasen] every day and see how she’s adapted to college training and come into her own at meets,” Roberts said. “Also, breaking a school record as a first year and at one of our biggest meets of the year was such an amazing performance to witness. Emma’s success in meets and daily dedication to practice truly demonstrate her ability to commit to a process and work through high-pressure situations with composure.”
Although Vasen has achieved more success in her first collegiate season than many athletes do in their entire careers, she has no intention of settling. In addition to mastering new throwing events, Vasen’s next goals are to launch 15-meter and 50-foot shot put throws in the outdoor season.
Her first chance to do so will be at Yale’s meet this weekend — the Sam Howell Invitational at Princeton University. But down the line, Vasen could also see a professional throwing career in her future following graduation.
“It would be super cool to continue [throwing after college],” Vasen said. “I do have to see how the next three years go, because I’m relatively new to it and I didn’t get super serious about it until my junior year of high school. In the couple years I’ll make a decision to see if I want to see how far it takes me.”
Yale’s track and field teams will compete at Princeton this Friday and Saturday before hosting their first outdoor meet of the Spring — the Yale-Harvard dual meet — the following weekend at Dewitt Cuyler Athletic Complex and Dwyer Track.
Ellen Margaret Andrews | firstname.lastname@example.org