CHARLOTTESVILLE — Kaycee Ruble has come a long way since picking up the shot put on a whim as an eighth-grader.
Catching the eye of Eastern Hancock throwing coach Brett Burkhart one day while she was messing around the ring with a friend after school, her first throw set Ruble’s future in motion without even realizing it.
“I saw her and asked her to throw. They use a six-pounder in middle school, but I didn’t have one, so I said, ‘Try an eight-pounder,’” Burkhart said. “She ended up tossing it 31 feet.”
Story continues below gallery
Fast-forward four years, and Ruble has increased her reach by nine feet, highlighted by a school-record toss of 40-1½ during the 2014-15 IHSAA girls track and field state finals in June.
Her performance at the Robert C. Haugh Track & Field Complex in Bloomington secured an all-state finish — the first in school history — at seventh place overall.
If the “chips fall” in her favor again, said Burkhart, Ruble’s senior year could bring a repeat state finals appearance and the ultimate prize.
“We talk about it all the time, it’s about going out there and throwing what you can throw. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t,” Burkhart said.
“She has several colleges looking at her, and that’s the main goal. I want her to go on to the next level.”
Burkhart isn’t feeding Ruble lip service either.
A 1988 Greenfield-Central graduate, Burkhart was a three-time state qualifier in high school, throwing both the shot put and the discus. He went on to become an NCAA Division II All-American at the University of Indianapolis in the hammer throw while also competing in the shot put, discus and javelin.
His twin brother, Brian, an assistant throwing coach at Greenfield-Central was an NCAA Division II National Champion in 1992 for the hammer throw.
Burkhart’s daughter, Ryley, is a freshman thrower at Anderson University.
He can spot talent, which is what prompted him to entice Ruble to pursue the sport. Her calm, stress-free demeanor is what’s led her to becoming the best girls thrower Eastern Hancock has even seen.
“She never feels pressure, even at the big meets. She PR’d at state, and that’s what you want to do,” Burkhart said. “But this season will be a true test because she did get seventh. She’s been there, so there might be more weight on her shoulders, but even when she’s nervous you can’t tell. She’s really smart and always calm.”
A year ago, Ruble playfully called the state finals “Christmas,” referring to the magnitude of the spotlight as fun. Ahead of schedule, she said, everything was a surprise.
To those competing against her, it was shocking for opposing coaches and athletes, especially with Ruble coming from “little Eastern Hancock,” Burkhart said.
In three years, she leisurely has rewritten the school’s shot put record eight times, including four occasions last spring.
In her first high school season, she took third at sectional with a 34-05. As a sophomore, she placed third again with a 35-2 to become a two-time regional qualifier.
Seeded first at regional last season after winning her first sectional title behind a 36-6 at Pendleton Heights, Ruble broke through and fended off the “bigger schools” with a 38-10 to win at Ben Davis.
Oddly enough, she excelled throughout her career without adopting a weight-training program.
This offseason, however, she developed a regime, committing her time to the weight room since Thanksgiving break, and it’s shown during the indoor track season.
The Royals have competed at the University of Indianapolis and at Indiana University indoors where Ruble has reached 38-7.
“Last year, she started out at 33 feet, 7 inches,” Burkhart said. “That’s a seven-foot turnaround, so I’m hoping that translates into a 46 or 45. If that happens, then we’re talking about hopefully finishing in the top three at state.”
Ruble was one of three underclassmen to place in the top eight at the state meet. The top-two finishers were Abigail Kapitan of Munster and Victoria Farley of Portage.
Kapitan, who is now a senior, was state runner-up at 43-7. Farley, the state champion, is back as a junior after winning with a toss of 46-1¾.
In the discussion as a state contender, Ruble’s approach is the intangible, which she proved in her first go-around.
A 15th seed at state, she catapulted into the top five early in the competition with a 37-10½ and a 38-7½.
She launched her 40-plus footer because “I knew, ‘Man, I have to up my game.’ So that’s what I did,” Ruble remarked after the meet last year.
The plan remains the same once the competition moves outdoors in April and the second season begins at sectional May 17.
“As of right now, she’s a little bit ahead of schedule. I told her she might throw 45-feet at regional this year and end up getting fourth. You just never know,” Burkhart said. “Last year was really unexpected, honestly. The goal was just to get to state. To place was fantastic.
“I know the strength is there now. She’s faster, more mature, and she’s really focused.”