There’s nothing wrong with being a perfectionist — unless things don’t go perfectly.
Tori Bliss learned that the hard way after a solid prep career didn’t go the way she planned for more than two seasons after signing with the LSU track and field program.
After being named the Indiana Gatorade girls track and field athlete of the year in 2011, which came with her No. 1 national ranking in the shot put as a senior at Portage High, Bliss’ college career was a bit slow to take off.
“I came here thinking I was going to make a huge jump with my numbers right away,” she said. “But I was frustrated at first. I was a perfectionist for the most part; if my throws weren’t perfect every time, I voiced my frustration often.”
LSU throws coach Derek Yush, who didn’t get frustrated with his star pupil, turned out to be the perfect sounding board.
“He worked with me and saw the potential for what I could do,” Bliss said. “There were some ups and downs over the years; we had some arguments and disagreements and bumps in the road, but we worked through it.”
Yush can laugh about it now.
“We sure did have some (dust-ups),” he said. “But a lot of it came from the fact that Tori wanted to be really good. If she wasn’t complaining about her progress, we never would have gotten into any arguments.”
And, most likely, she wouldn’t have contended for an individual title in the 2014 NCAA outdoor meet or the indoor meet in March. Nor would she be the national leader this spring and one of the favorites to cap her career with a victory in the shot put at the NCAA championships that begin Wednesday in Eugene, Oregon.
Bliss finished second in the same meet a year ago, then was second at indoor nationals. But she’s determined to finish strong after shattering her school record with a throw of 60 feet, 8 inches May 2 in her final home meet — the LSU Invitational — which made her the No. 9 collegiate performer all-time.
The runner-up finishes at the NCAA meets have only served to motivate Bliss, who is now eyeing a professional career after rewriting the LSU record books.
She broke the school outdoor record in the shot five times in her career and surpassed the LSU indoor mark four times — topping out at 60-7¼ in March. Both marks were set in 1994 by All-American Danyel Mitchell.
“The mindset is a little different going to this meet,” Bliss said. “I’m more amped up because it’s my last college meet. To go out with a win would be awesome.
“If my plan goes the way I expect it to, there won’t be so much finality to it. ... It’ll just be my last time in an LSU uniform. But I want to go out with an NCAA championship.”
That’s within her reach after changing to a rotational throw from her old glide-step throw that she had used her entire career. The switch during the fall of 2013 leading into the 2014 indoor season obviously has worked well, after an adjustment period.
“There were some mental struggles,” Yush said. “Basically, we changed her event. She was a national champion in high school, so when you change your technique dramatically, there will be some ups and downs. There will be some mistakes along the way.”
Another key to her success, which Yush thinks could land his pupil a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in 2016, has been Bliss’ mental approach.
“I used to be so hard on myself. … Everything had to be perfect,” Bliss said. “Now I know it doesn’t help me to be so mad if things don’t go right.”
Discus standout Brown honored
LSU’s Rodney Brown, who is undefeated this season in the discus with the nation’s top mark at 213-5, was named the South Central Region men’s field athlete of the year by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.
Among the eight victories Brown posted this spring are wins in the Texas Relays, Penn Relays and Southeastern Conference championships. His mark of 213-5 at Penn easily topped Virginia’s Filip Mihaljevic, who has thrown 207-1.
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate.