WHITEWRIGHT — The frustration was enough for Zada Swoopes to want to throw things. In the case of the Whitewright senior, it turned out she threw them very, very far.
Swoopes has a chance to cap off her high school career with a pair of gold medals and reaching the podium in any capacity in the discus and shot put this weekend at the Class 3A state track meet at Mike A. Myers Stadium will give her a total of five medals and at least one in each of her three consecutive trips.
“One thing I’ve learned is that if I throw 20 feet, have that short-term memory and get better on the next throw. Respond rather than react,” Swoopes said. “I practice a lot more. I stayed in the weight room. Just simple things. This time I have a mindset to have a little more fun.”
Only an injury as a freshman kept her from trying to get to Austin four years ago.
She enters both events as the top seed but if anyone knows better than to take things for granted, it would be Swoopes.
“I feel like I have to hold my ground and show why I’m number one in the state and the nation,” she said. “I’m not really pressured from outside sources. Just not overthink things I normally do.”
The ACL injury that essentially wiped out her entire freshman year? She blew out the other ACL nearly a year later. The only difference was as a sophomore she was able to recover enough to compete in the spring. She was the state champion in the discus at 135 feet, 11 inches and the state runner-up in the shot put at 39 feet, six and a half inches.
Last spring, however, things were not as easy. While Swoopes got a silver medal in the shot for the second straight year, it came with a much better throw of 43 feet. The big improvement fell four and a half inches short of the winning throw by Deweyville’s Mallory Dotson. Swoopes was in first place until Dotson’s second-to-last throw.
But the frustration of not being able to defend her discus title has been the major source of fuel. Swoopes didn’t even compete at the Region II meet, failing to get past area because she scratched on her first three attempts and didn’t make the finals. Dotson would end up winning the state title at 138 feet, three inches.
“It was just weird. I don’t get it either,” she said. “Just wasn’t focused on what I needed to be focused on.”
That brings us to this year and state qualifying throws. Not only did Swoopes produce the top discus throw in Class 3A, her toss of 175 feet, one inch is the best throw in the country.
“That was kind of a shock to me,” she said.
Only one other thrower in the state — Lockney’s Haley Walker in 2A right at 150 feet — is within 25 feet of Swoopes. The Class 3A record is 154 feet, nine inches set by Van Vleck’s Precious Thibodeaux in 1997.
“I approach it as anything else, a goal on my list to do,” she said.
The state record of 187 feet, 10 inches set five years ago by Mansfield Legacy’s Shelbi Vaughn may be out of reach but Swoopes can certainly give it a try.
In the shot put, Swoopes also has the best throw across Texas at 46 feet and a half inch. In Class 3A, that gives her a five-foot gap over the second seed, Monica Driscoll of Clyde.
It puts her in position to get the gold which has eluded her and potentially push for the 3A mark in that event, which is 48 feet, eight and a quarter inches by Leonard’s Lydia Bush in 2002.
“Hopefully I go out there and perform and whatever happens, happens,” Swoopes said.
Part of a very athletic family, her mother, Elizabeth, was a basketball player at Grayson College and then the University of Texas-Arlington, older brother Tyrone finished his career as a quarterback at the University of Texas and was signed as a tight end by the Seattle Seahawks last month and her aunt, Sheryl, is in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Swoopes has been a standout basketball player, earning all-state honors and will continue in college at West Texas A&M. She also hit better than .500 this spring to help the Lady Tigers make the softball playoffs and was part of the program’s state semifinal appearance as a sophomore.
“I’ve always been interested in track, since I came out here in seventh grade and tried it,” Swoopes said. “Usually if I see I have potential in something I put my best foot forward and give it 110 percent.”