Chesney Gardner eyes state championship for final act at Owen
Every time Chesney Gardner lets go of a discus there is a good chance an Owen record will fall with it. The senior began setting marks in the event for the Warlassies in her freshman year, and has bested her own efforts countless times since.
As she approaches the end of her high school athletic career and continues to rewrite the record books, Gardner is setting her sights on something that has proven elusive thus far—a state title.
When Gardner first picked up a disc for the Warlassies the farthest one had ever been thrown by a female athlete at the school was 67-feet-3-inches. She outdid that mark by 38 feet that season and added two more feet to her new record during the 2-A Western Regionals that May. As a sophomore she became the first Owen athlete to win MVP of the Buncombe County track meet with a throw of 108-feet-9-inches.
The mark for Gardner, who is also a standout athlete in basketball and volleyball, came into the season with a career-best throw of just over 115 feet. She's "improved in every way," according to Owen track and field coach Clint McElrath.
"She definitely came into this season stronger than she's ever been," he said. "She's continued to work on her footwork as well and that's helped her develop even more."
In her first meet this season, Gardner threw the disc over 121 feet.
"I really wanted to break 115 feet," Gardner said. "Once I did that I was confident that I could build off of that."
Gardner placed first in the event at Reynolds on April 1, in the Buncombe County meet and is the top 2-A discus thrower in the state. The week before taking the county crown she tossed the disc 130-feet-4-inches, which was her personal record up to that point.
She eclipsed that mark on April 4, with a throw of 131 feet, in a meet hosted by Owen.
"Nationally, she's ranked about 90th overall," McElrath said. "I've had (NCAA Division I) colleges call me about her but she's already signed a letter of intent."
Gardner committed to play basketball at USC Aiken last November. She led the region in scoring and rebounding in her final basketball season as a Warlassie.
With the final chapter of her high school basketball career behind her, Gardner entered the track and field season with a simple goal.
"I really want to win a state championship," she said. "That's something I've wanted since my freshman year and this is my chance to get that ring."
After exploring different approaches to the sport during her first two seasons, Gardner found the right one prior to her junior season.
"I didn't have to make a lot of changes to my technique coming into this season," she said. "Now I just focus on being as consistent as possible."
Working with middle school athletes last season for her senior project and mentoring younger teammates this year provided Gardner with a helpful perspective.
"Helping them has helped me," she said. "When I'm working with other people on their technique it allows me to see firsthand how each adjustment plays out."
Gardner has dominated the shot put this season as well, according to McElrath.
"The best I can tell she now holds the record in that event too," he said. "She came into the season with a personal record around 33 feet. She beat that with a 38-foot-7-inch put earlier this year."
Gardner has yet to lose in either event, the coach added.
"She scores points for us consistently," McElrath said. "In five of our six meets she's thrown 120 feet or better."
Gardner's dominance in her final home meet at Owen caught the attention of the Warlassies softball team, which was practicing during one of her three discus throws.
With six meets remaining in the season, McElrath is confident Gardner will continue to improve.
"We'd like to see her get up around the 140-foot range," he said. "That distance would be really hard to beat in state and she's definitely capable of getting there."
A state championship would land her a spot in Nationals in June, pitting her against the best discus throwers in the country.
"She's built perfectly for this sport," McElrath said. "She's strong, athletic and tall and those characteristics help make her hard to beat."
Gardner is willing to do whatever she needs to do to bring home a state championship.
"I'm kind of superstitious, I haven't washed my jersey yet this season," she said laughing. "But winning a state championship is something I'd really like to do before I'm finished here and if I get that ring I'm wearing it everyday."