Prep boys track and field: T-Birds' Gilliland turns in state championship performance


TUMWATER — It’s nestled in an area that wouldn’t be a typical place to drive a car.

Turn off Case Road in Tumwater and there’s a private gravel road. To the left at first glance is a farm with chickens and an animal with horns. Houses encompass the left side and trees galore hover the right side.

Mosey down further and in lies a pot of land and a discus ring. Although no discs were thrown on Thursday afternoon.

Rather, Dylan Gilliland slides on gloves and walks over to the ring and begins to twirl the chains near his head with a ball attached to the end. He spins fast enough that if you blink, you might miss it.

With one flick of the wrist, Gilliland unleashes a throw powerful enough to see dirt fly up into the air.

This is hammer throw, an event in track and field that isn’t sanctioned by the WIAA, but has grown in interest and produced Division I athletes. It is the event that Gilliland has fallen in love with.

“It takes time, it takes patience,” the Tumwater High School junior said. “It is something new to learn.”

After the Thunderbirds boys teams brought home a team trophy for a fourth place finish at the Class 2A state meet in Tacoma last week, Gilliland continued the momentum with a state hammer throw title on Sunday at Evergreen State College, the 25th running of the state event.

Gilliland’s winning throw of 182 feet, 10 inches was over three feet better than Aberdeen’s Tyler Bates, the runner-up.

“It was very amazing,” Gilliland said. “It got very emotional because I wanted to bring a state championship to Tumwater. All the hard work I did paid off finally.”

Tumwater head coach Jordan Stray, a former hammer thrower as a prep at Centralia and collegiately at the University of Oregon, was over the moon excited.

It is the first state champ hammer thrower he’s coached.

“We started practicing in January and right away, started throwing farther,” Stray said. “I was almost at a loss for words. One of the most difficult throwing events to learn, and being able to see someone find that success, it was awesome.”

Gilliland was exposed to the event early on.

His older brother, Ty, was a multi-year hammer thrower for the T-Birds. Gilliland picked it up and by eighth grade, was under Stray’s tutelage. 

Natural strength was evident, but the technique left something to be desired.

“Getting speed with the ball and connection with the ball was a big technique issue the last two years,” Gilliland admitted. “I saw all the work and how hard you have to train at this and I wanted to do that, too.”

Stray calls the hammer “95 percent rhythm.”

“It is not a grip-and-rip, pull on it type of event,” he added. “Technique (is worked on) daily.”

There were considerable improvements. As a freshman, Gilliland had a season-best throw of 146 even. Sophomore year saw a leap to 159-11, one inch shy of being nationally ranked.

He blew by the 160-foot mark with a toss of 172 flat in mid-March this spring.

By April, Gilliland uncorked a throw of 184-04 for a new lifetime best. His best throw went over 180 in his final three competitions.

“I would do Olympic lifting, a lot of squatting, benching and powerlifting,” Gilliland said. “I would also add plyometrics, just to work on my athletic ability. It was more about the hip explosion. It was a huge factor.

“As my numbers grew, I trusted my training and I believed in myself.”

The junior is ranked 30th in the nation amongst high schoolers and eighth in his class. The next barrier to break into is over 200 feet, a mark that would put him in the top-20 nationally.

He also has family bragging rights since Ty, who threw collegiately at North Dakota State, didn’t win a state title.

“He was very proud of me, he gave me a huge hug and was crying,” Gilliland said. “He was very proud that I brought home a state championship he couldn’t.”

There is ambition to throw at the next level. To this point, no colleges have reached out to Gilliland, but Stray believes it will only be a matter of time.

“Go with the wave of training and technique can always be improved,” Stray said.

For Gilliland, he’s appreciative of the journey from a middle schooler just getting his feet wet to being on top of the podium. Still, he feels there is room for improvement and isn’t willing to settle.

“I know it is doable and will take time and work,” Gilliland said. “I’m really excited to reach out to coaches and making sure I’m in the right spot for my future and have the right people around me to push me to the limits.”