Donnelly makes Division I debut in Championships

The senior is a four-time Division III national Champion.

Senior Sean Donnelly is competing in the 2016 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship for hammer throw. Donnelly tossed the hammer 74.35 meters at the Baldy Castillo Invitational this season, which is reported as the ninth farthest throw in the world.

Kelsey Christensen

Senior Sean Donnelly is competing in the 2016 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship for hammer throw. Donnelly tossed the hammer 74.35 meters at the Baldy Castillo Invitational this season, which is reported as the ninth farthest throw in the world.

Jack White

Many track and field athletes who make their NCAA Championships debut would not have postseason experience at the college level. Senior Sean Donnelly is a rare exception. 

Donnelly, a four-time Division III national champion at the University of Mount Union, transferred to Minnesota for his final year of collegiate eligibility. This week he will make his first appearance in the Division I NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore. 

“We’re super hopeful with him,” head coach Steve Plasencia said. “He’s definitely had a great year and he was a great addition as a one-year, fifth-year guy to come to the program. It’s been nothing but a bonus there.”

Donnelly dominated at the Division III level. He is an eight-time All-American and finished in first place in the Division III NCAA Championships in the shot put, weight throw and hammer throw in his final year with Mount Union.

The senior has continued to impress in his first year at the Division I level. 

Donnelly set three meet records this season — one in the weight throw and two in the hammer throw. 

Donnelly also broke the Gophers’ previous record in the hammer throw of 68.94 meters at the Baldy Castillo Invitational with a 74.35-meter mark. It is the ninth-best throw in the world this year and the best in NCAA competition thus far. 

Donnelly is attempting to join a class of prominent Minnesota throwers with his performance at the NCAA Championships. The Gophers have had five All-American throwers in the last five seasons with seven total honors.

“It’s a little bit different,” Plasencia said. “One of the differences is he’s essentially had one season to throw for Minnesota. He’s been the most confident of any of the guys we’ve had in terms of his performances. … In terms of gifts and abilities, he’s probably one of the most talented guys we’ve had.”

The hammer throw takes place on the first day of the meet, and Donnelly is the only Minnesota thrower competing. If Donnelly finishes in the top eight, his hopes of becoming a Division I First Team All-American will be realized.

“I’m driving around town and I’m thinking, ‘I’ve been dreaming of playing in this meet for four years now,’ and I finally have the opportunity,” Donnelly said. “It means a lot to me, and I’m excited to go out and compete against the best hand throwers in the nation and see how I do.”

Donnelly heads back to Eugene, Ore., later this summer in an attempt to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team for the first time in his career. 

“Of course you think about the opportunities in front of him, which are to place very high at the NCAA meet and may even contend to win,” throwing coach Lynden Reder said. “He’s ranked third in the U.S., and they take the top three to the Olympic games. … Day in and day out we’re just checking the boxes of what needs to be done in terms of the process, and the rest just takes care of itself.”