By Conor Walsh
---- — Unlike some top amateur athletes, Liz McCormack’s rise to her current spot among the state’s top shot putters didn’t come naturally.
McCormack had to work for it.
But for the senior, that hard work has quickly paid dividends. Since first joining the Gloucester track team as a sophomore in the spring of 2011, she’s completely transformed herself from a mediocre shot putter into one of the area’s top competitors.
McCormack is coming off an undefeated regular season and a fourth-place finish in last week’s NEC Championship meet. Her work, however, isn’t done.
She’ll compete in the Class B state tournament Feb. 17 at Boston’s Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center, and if all goes well, could later find herself at the all-state meet.
“She’s very versatile, really strong,” Gloucester coach Liz Moran said. “She’s a soccer player in the fall, she’s the goalie there, so she has that quickness and she’s used to the quick spring. As far as form goes, she has that perfect combination of strength and speed in the circle.”
McCormack’s even looking to extend her shot put career beyond her senior season with the Fishermen. A top student — she ranks 24th in her senior class with a 91.6 grade point average — McCormack’s currently weighing her college option.
While schools like Emmanuel and Bridgewater State are still on McCormack’s radar, she’s leaning toward Worcester State, which has contacted her about a collegiate track career.
“I’m kind of looking towards Worcester State because they’re looking at me for track,” said McCormack, who plans on studying to become a teacher, “and, well, I really enjoy track.”
The rate at which McCormack has flourished as a shot putter is perhaps the most impressive part of her journey. The sport wasn’t on McCormack’s radar until less than two years ago, and when she began her career, her inexperience showed.
Since then, though, the same work ethic that’s pushed her to the top of her graduating class has her climbing the ladder in local competition.
She began her career with throws averaging middling distances, usually just above the 20-foot range.
As she got comfortable in the circle and honed her technique, those distances increased. And increased. And by the time McCormack entered this year’s winter season, she and Moran had an eye on a spot in the Class B state meet — the most competitive of the state’s four divisions.
“There’s a lot of technique in the shot put and a lot of positioning,” Moran said. “You need a lot of strength technique and a good combination of athleticism and strength, and Liz has that. It’s been a very quick progression. She didn’t do anything freshman year and when she came out for spring track sophomore year, she was throwing low-20s, and each season she’s progressed a lot.
“We were setting a goal for making states this year and we had a preseason meet and she threw state-qualifying in the very first meet of the season. She jumped up from early-20s to mid-20s to high-20s to throwing over 30 this year, so each season she’s come out a little stronger.”
The Class B qualifying distance is set at 31 feet, and with McCormack’s personal record throw of 33’8” will likely notch her a high seed in the meet.
Now, the easy-going McCormack will look to work out the kinks in her throw before the Class B meet.
“I’m having a little bit of a bad run,” McCormack said. “I’ve been feeling a little off since the state coach’s meet. I just want to throw my best and see if I can improve a little.”
Nonetheless, McCormack’s had four years to remember. She’s been a part of two exciting state tournament runs as a member of the soccer team — last season’s two penalty kick games, one a win and one a loss, stand out in her mind as her favorite memories — and established herself as a shot putting force, all while dominating the classroom as much as opponents.
For some, the rest of her high school career would just be icing on the cake.
But for a competitor whose hard work has brought her to where she is today, who would be surprised if McCormack shows the Fishermen a few more fireworks before her career wraps up?