FARGO, N.D. — Whatever javelin training Benji Phillips did during the coronavirus pandemic layoff worked.
The Glasgow native now in his junior season throwing at North Dakota State recorded a throw of 211 feet, 7 inches at the NCAA Division I West preliminary competition in 2019. When he came back in the 2021 outdoor track and field season, Phillips threw 238-1 in his first competition of the season.
“It’s taken me quite a while to figure out how to throw it well, so just for the coaching to kick in,” Phillips said of what changed from 2019 to 2021. “I haven’t gotten, I wouldn’t say, that much stronger or anything. It’s just learning how to throw, I guess, more than anything.”
Whatever it is, Phillips has had a remarkable 2021 outdoor season, so far culminating with his first Summit League championship. He uncorked a personal-best throw of 246-11.5 at the conference championship meet on May 13, setting the meet record.
“It was a pretty good series. I started off OK; it was a good throw, but it wasn’t my best,” Phillips said, recounting his conference performance. He marked 229-08.75 on his first throw and then threw 231-06, 227-7.5 and 216-05.25 on his ensuing tosses. Phillips scratched his fifth throw and then recorded the monster 246-11.5 heave on his final throw of the meet.
“I felt pretty solid and had good energy on everything, and I just felt like I needed to make a couple technical adjustments,” Phillips continued. “And that ended up happening on the last throw, so that’s why it went farther than my other ones.”
“It’s a little hard for me to tell when I catch one good. I knew I got it better than my other ones, but I just kind of went over to my coach and was like, ‘Well, it was at least a little better than the other ones.’ He was like, ‘Yeah, not too bad,’” Phillips added. “But then we saw the mark and it was like, ‘Oh, crap. That was pretty good.’”
As in, the No. 6 mark in the entire NCAA this outdoor season and less than 12 feet from the No. 1 throw in the country (258-1, set by Mississippi State’s DJ Jonsson at the SEC championships).
Phillips’ throw helped North Dakota State win its 11th consecutive Summit League outdoor title. Now, the Bison will send 14 entries to the West prelim, which begins Wednesday at College Station, Texas.
It won’t be completely foreign territory for Phillips — he placed 23rd at the 2019 West prelims — but it will be a new experience. He enters as one of the favorites as the No. 3 seed in the West, the highest of any of NDSU’s qualifiers. Arthur Petersen of Texas-Arlington (255-1) and Cameron Bates of BYU (253-2) are seeded just ahead of Phillips.
“The main goal is to come out in the top 12, I guess, because that’s obviously what moves on (to the NCAA Championships). But then the top six places at that meet are in the top flight at nationals, so that’s kind of the goal,” Phillips said. “The expectation for myself is just to go compete and have fun, just like it always is, and see what happens.”
Regardless, Phillips will have a strong cheering contingent back home on the Hi-Line. He placed at the Class B state track and field meet all four years of his high school career at Glasgow, getting fourth as a freshman, second as a sophomore and first his junior and senior seasons.
The Glasgow community has been and continues to be effusive in its support for its homegrown star.
“I’ve gotten so many text messages and congratulations, and it’s been so awesome,” Phillips said. “Absolutely, Montana is great about it, and Glasgow especially too has been just fantastic. Wonderful community. So many great people who reached out there, so it’s awesome to see.”
Montanans will be watching 34 Treasure Staters compete at this week’s preliminary meets, and Phillips will be going head to head against a handful, including Dylan Kipp from the University of Montana in the event’s third flight on Wednesday. Montana State’s Cooper Hoffman and Cantor Coverdell and UM’s Evan Todd will be throwing in the second flight. Hoffman is from Dillon, Coverdell from Fairfield and Todd a Kalispell Glacier alum.
The NCAA West preliminary competition begins on Wednesday at College Station, Texas, and concludes on Saturday. The first flight of the javelin is set to begin at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.