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It Didn’t Take Her Long to Make a Point : Track and field: Foothill High graduate Ashley Selman is among the nation’s best javelin throwers, and she’s only a sophomore at USC.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ever since she found a javelin under the Christmas tree six years ago, Ashley Selman has been working toward throwing the spear farther than anyone else.

But though she dreamed of being among the best female javelin throwers in the nation, Selman never thought her dream would come true.

It has.

The USC sophomore currently ranks third in the event among Americans--second among collegians--with her throw of 184 feet 10 inches.

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“Obviously, it’s exciting,” said Selman, a former multi-sport star at Foothill High School. “But I find myself going ‘Dang!’ I mean, it’s hard for me to comprehend--I don’t think of myself as being (one of) the nation’s leaders. It trips me out.”

In its latest issue, Track & Field News picked Selman to finish second in the event at the NCAA championships June 1-4 at Durham, N.C.

But now that the magazine’s top pick, defending NCAA champion Kim Engel of Georgia, has dropped out of school because of academic problems, Selman is facing some expectations she never quite expected: To win a national title in her second year of college.

What makes Selman’s accomplishments most impressive is the fact that prior to enrolling at USC, she had little coaching in the highly technical event.

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Because the California Interscholastic Federation does not allow the javelin throw in its meets--only 16 states allow it in high school--Selman’s only competitive experience came in a few weekend age-group meets or, while competing unattached, at college all-comers meets.

Still, in her senior year at Foothill, Selman managed a throw of 154 feet--the best prep mark in the nation at that time--at an all-comers meet at USC. That was enough to convince USC Coach Mike Bailey that Selman was worth a full athletic scholarship.

“She’s lived up to everything we ever expected so far,” Bailey said. “Between the two of us, our goal is to bring the American standard of javelin up to par with the Europeans.”

That, Bailey said, would mean throwing somewhere in the range of 230 feet. East Germany’s Petra Felke set the world record last year at 262-5. The American record is held by Kate Schmidt at 227-5.

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While Selman believes a 200-plus throw is within her reach someday, she would rather concentrate on her present task of representing the Trojans as best she can.

So far, so good.

As a freshman last year, Selman won the Pacific 10 Conference javelin title with a school-record 176-10, becoming only the fourth female to win a Pac-10 track and field title in her first year of college.

Selman went on to place sixth in the NCAA championships, earning All-American honors. A few weeks later, she won The Athletics Congress junior national championship with a throw of 187-9--the fifth-best for a junior in U.S. history.

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Next weekend, Selman will try to defend her conference title at the Pac-10 track and field championships at Washington. No woman has won more than one Pac-10 title in the javelin.

“It just dawned on me that it’s (the Pac-10 meet) here,” said Selman, whose seasonal best of 184-10 ranks second in the NCAA to the 187-9 mark posted by Nebraska’s Nora Rockenbauer.

“I am starting to get nervous,” Selman said. “It’s totally different from last year because last year nothing was expected of me. The pressure doesn’t bother me. I like it. I usually do better under pressure.”

Perhaps that is because Selman has been at this track and field game for so long.

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At 6, Selman ran her first track race--a 50-yard dash--at a local youth meet in Orange. She didn’t win, but it became evident to Cindy and Jack Selman that their daughter had a tremendous love for competition. Soon, she was on her way to becoming a little legend in Tustin track and field.

Between 1978 and 1983, Selman set seven City of Tustin age-group records in the long jump, high jump and softball throw. Six of those records still stand, including two--a 99-3 softball throw and a 10-3 long jump as a 7-year-old--that have yet to be bettered by any 7-year-old boy. “Oh yeah, she dominated,” said Randy Westrick of the Tustin Park and Recreation Dept. “Ashley Selman--her name is all over our track program.”

At Foothill, Selman set a school record in the shotput (39-1 1/2), and had some of the county’s best marks in the long jump (18-0), the 100-meter hurdles (14.8 seconds) and the 300-meter hurdles (46.2).

Foothill Coach Jerry Whitaker called Selman, who also ran cross-country and was named the Century League’s most valuable player in basketball, the best athlete the school has ever had.

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“Ashley is a phenom,” Whitaker said in April of 1988. “We don’t even have a hurdle coach, but she’s one of the county’s best.”

Bailey said that having seen Selman throw the javelin over 150 feet without any quality coaching was an indication for future success.

“Before (college), she did a lot of just arm throwing,” said Bailey, a former decathlete. “We went back and covered the ABCs. Now she’s started to understand.”

Selman, who works out 45 minutes each day with a medicine ball, has learned a basic commandment for javelin throwers--throwing through the point of the javelin.

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“Picture a doughnut up in the sky,” Selman explained. “Then throw the javelin right through the hole. It’s one of the basics you never get away from. You’re always thinking, ‘OK, where’s the doughnut?’ . . .

“There’s so much to the javelin people don’t know. That makes it neat. . . . It’s so unpredictable, the aerodynamics of it is so delicate, and there’s so many facets that affect it, you go into a meet and you just never know what will happen.”

That’s why Selman shies away from questions about the possibility of becoming the only woman to win a Pac-10 title in each of her four years of college.

“I’m sure anyone who’s won an event has had it cross her mind: ‘Can I win it all four years?’ ” Selman said. “I mean, it has gone through my mind, yeah. But . . . I’ve got to take it one year at a time.”

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