Former Plains High School track and field standout Carley VonHeeder continues to pursue qualifying for the NCAA Division I National track and field championships.
For the past three seasons, VonHeeder, a Plains High School graduate and track and field star, has gotten close to achieving her dream.
VonHeeder just completed her third season at Montana State University, qualified for the NCAA Regional competition for the third consecutive season and is still aspiring to achieve more in her track career.
The NCAA Division I Nationals again remained slightly out of reach.
“So, this past season was a roller coaster,” VonHeeder said of her season at MSU. “My junior year in track, I started strong, but then I had some mishaps in the middle. It was great to be able to qualify for regionals the third year in a row, and that is something that I am proud about.”
VonHeeder, who is now preparing to enter her fourth and final season competing for Montana State University track and field in 2020, is fighting soreness, which is a residual effect that occurred from the unnatural throwing motion of throwing a javelin repetitiously every day for seven years.
Battling soreness and the rigors of track and field hasn’t deterred VonHeeder from focusing on achieving her ultimate goal.
“This year, there has been more soreness than ever,” VonHeeder said. “I am getting older, and I had to overcome a lot of shoulder pain. Things weren’t feeling as good as they used to. I still have to plan accordingly to how I am feeling. I can’t take as many reps. I go from there, but it is just the ups and downs of sports.”
Throughout her throwing career at Plains and MSU, VonHeeder has still never experienced a significant injury.
A season of turbulence hasn’t deterred VonHeeder from looking forward to the final season as a member of the Bobcats track and field team.
VonHeeder admits she struggles with the finality of her athletic career coming to a close, yet has been able to move forward successfully keeping on in her ultimate aspiration: NCAA Division I Nationals.
Over the past three seasons, VonHeeder has competed with some of the best track and field athletes the country had to offer, and she now prepares to move into her final season.
She isn’t worried about the finality, and she remains focused on the task at hand. This is a characteristic VonHeeder has learned from competing with some of the best athletes in the country and world.
“I think what those athletes have to make it to the next level is mental stability,” VonHeeder said. “Track is a very mental sport, and there is a lot of mental practice. When you are going into a high-level event like regionals, you have to be very mentally sound. You have to be mentally sound enough to make something happen, and that is the difference between the athletes that make it and the ones that don’t.”
VonHeeder knows to take her next step toward her ultimate goal, and she will have to achieve something close to equilibrium in how she deals with both mental and physical adversity associated with the rigorous sport.
“It’s just a mental game from here on out,” VonHeeder candidly stated. “I try to have the mentality of competing for my best, whether it is a small Missoula meet, as well for the conference because I am helping my team try to get regionals. I have to be the best I can for the team and myself.”
Next season will be VonHeeder’s final season competing as a premier NCAA Division I athlete, yet VonHeeder said she is confident she can make her last season her best.
“I am 100-percent looking forward to next season,” VonHeeder said. “I am going to be sad because I will be leaving a lot of relationships with my coaches, who have been right beside me for some of the best memories of my life. I have to go into next season with that kind of attitude that I’ve been allowed to give it my all, and I have to nothing to lose now.”
Taking a step back
During her Plains High School career, VonHeeder was a part of a Trotter’s track dynasty.
The team included Kimberly Earhart, who now throws the javelin at the University of Montana, Kayla Holmes, a discus thrower for the Lady Griz, Hailey Phillips, a sprinter, at Montana State University, and Leah Thompson, a discus thrower, along with her younger sister Jessica Thompson, a thrower, who are both at BYU. They combined to make one dominant track team.
As a member of this dominant team, VonHeeder had to work to stand out in what was a weekly talent showcase.
The Trotter’s won four consecutive Montana High School state titles in four during VonHeeder’s time in high school in track and field, three of them in class MHSA Class B, and one in MHSA Class C, VonHeeder’s senior year.
“She was a great kid,” Plains High School track coach Denise Montgomery recalled. “She had such a fun, fun personality, was a hard worker and just got along with everyone.”
Montgomery said one of aspect that made VonHeeder successful was her selflessness.
Both VonHeeder and Earhart were coached in the javelin by Brian Taylor, a former Division-I athlete himself, who knew what it took to make it in the competitive atmosphere of Division-I athletics, at MSU.
“We were fortunate because Carly and Kimberly went into javelin, and Bria) knew what it took to compete at that next level,” Montgomery said. “When you have people in your community who competed at the Division-I level, it makes a big difference in the caliber of program you can put together.”
Back to the Future
The past three seasons competing for the Bobcats have seemed like a whirlwind for VonHeeder, who still admits she is in disbelief as her journey as a track athlete is near its end.
“It’s such a crazy feeling, and it’s almost coming to an end,” VonHeeder said. “As I’ve said before, I’ve met some of the best people here, including my teams and my coaches. I love them all.”
VonHeeder, a psychology major at MSU, stills wants to stay involved in track and field after her career ends. VonHeeder has aspirations of getting a job in therapy and spreading awareness of mental health with the hopes of destigmatizing people who suffer from illness.
“I want to have an impact on the team, even if I am not on it anymore,” VonHeeder said.
VonHeeder also credits her athletic success to her family, who are all accomplished athletes.
Carley’s brother, Jay VonHeeder, graduated in 2018 but participated in basketball and football in Plains.
Celsey VonHeeder, Carley’s sister, will be a sophomore in high school this coming year and is the pitcher on the Plains softball team.
And VonHeeder’s parents, her mother, Rebecca Vonheeder, also participated in collegiate track and field and competed in the triple jump, and her father, Derek Vonheeder was a member of a state championship basketball team in high school.
VonHeeder, who now tries for nationals in her final year of school, will aim for making her last year the year she takes the next step her in her throwing career.
“That is tough to think about,” VonHeeder said. “Shockingly, I’ll be a senior, and it just seems like I was a freshman two days ago. I think it’s going to be a big step for me being involved with sports, and being from a competitive family. It will be a little weird to be involved in a sport, but not competing. I will have to watch them and help them transition a lot.”