Tigard's McFall has made the most of her UCLA experience
That's how 2018 Tigard High School and now-UCLA graduate Lauren McFall feels about her decision to leave her home state and attend and compete for the Bruins four years ago.
But with graduate school on the immediate horizon and a year of eligibility remaining, there's still more to do for one of the Pac-12's elite female javelin throwers.
"I'm super-excited," McFall said. "My former teammate Ilaria Casarotto graduated last year (2021) with the school record, and as much as I love that for her, I'm going for it."
Casarotto's school record is 174-foot-2, but while McFall has thrown just 159-foot-5 to date, she's been putting in the work and feels this upcoming year could be the one in which she sees her throws go from good to great.
"The thing about javelin is that it's a highly technical sport," McFall said. "A lot of this past season was about working on the technical aspects of the throw, so it's just a matter of time and reps before those all come together and I start seeing the reward."
During her time at Tigard, McFall won a Junior Olympics national championship in the ages 15-16 division, and despite battling injuries throughout, she won a Three Rivers League title and placed third at the state meet her senior season. McFall still holds the school record in the javelin with a throw of 142-foot-7.
Her success both in track and field and in the classroom — where she was, and still is, an outstanding student — provided her with a number of opportunities to continue her education and athletic career. She ultimately decided on UCLA, and she says her experience over the past four years proved her decision right.
"Honestly, I think it exceeded my expectations," McFall said. "When I committed there, I was down to Oregon State and UCLA, but one thing my dad said to me was that if it feels right, just pull the trigger, because you'll never know unless you try. And since in terms of academics and athletics, it's been one of the greatest experiences I could have asked for."
It wasn't a seamless transition. McFall acknowledged an adjustment period upon her initial arrival.
College isn't easy, and in addition to the intensified academic experience, many students are too adjusting to being away from friends and family for the first time. McFall said that over the first month of her freshman year, she really missed her parents and experienced an unexpected degree of homesickness. But with help from friends and her track and field family, she overcame that initial discomfort and settled into what became her home away from home.
"Eventually you find those people that kind of help you get through it," McFall said referring to her initial discomfort. "I think socially, being an athlete was really helpful because it throws you into a friend group. The adjustment is much easier with the immediate friends you make when you're on a sports team."
Four years later and with a degree in sociology in hand, McFall said she entered the NCAA's new transfer portal — which allows collegiate athletes an opportunity to explore and entertain options beyond their current school — with intent of seeing what lies beyond UCLA both in the classroom and on the track.
She's eyeballing a career in collegiate athletics administration and hopes to one day be a university athletic director, so with both athletic and academic goals in mind, McFall said she took visits to both the University of Oregon and Oregon State University to explore transferring for her final season of competition. She was impressed by what both had to offer, but in the end, she couldn't leave what she'd built in Los Angeles: a new home.
"I loved the atmosphere at both places," she said. "But Oregon didn't have what I was looking for in a graduate program, and while Oregon State checked every single box, at the end of the day, when it came down to decision time, I just felt like I was so established at UCLA and really didn't want to leave the place that I had called home for so long."
Now, firmly committed to the school and athletic program she's come to love, McFall will begin work on a Master of Education in Transformative Coaching and Leadership this fall. She'll also be preparing for what will in the end be her final year of collegiate competition.
What are her goals? Success, of course, and the school javelin record she covets — but also to make the most of what will be the end of something she's spent the last decade working to master.
"You only get to be a collegiate athlete for so long, and this is my absolute final year," McFall said. "There's no more eligibility after this, so I'm really just going to do what I can to have the most fun and really enjoy it."
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