Brea Garrett threw a fit when she found out Shelbi Vaughan had committed to Texas A&M in 2012. For Vaughan, the only drawback to joining the Aggies track and field team was having Garrett as a teammate.
Rivals in high school — Garrett at Arlington Martin and Vaughan at Mansfield Legacy — the two became fast friends in college.
“We used to hate each other in high school and couldn’t even look at each other,” Vaughan said in a phone interview. “We’d walk by and give each other dirty looks. Now, she’s one of my best friends. We always talk to each other about everything. We’re always there to support each other.
“It’s like a joke now. She was just great competition in high school, and who doesn’t hate their competition? That was just kind of our deal.”
The Aggies women, the defending national champions, qualified 13 athletes to this week’s NCAA championships in Eugene, Ore. They have 15 entries in 10 events, including Vaughan in the discus and Garrett in the shot put.
After that, Garrett and Vaughan go their separate ways.
Garrett calls it a career after her event Thursday. Having graduated with a degree in psychology, she will move to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with her fiancée. Garrett hopes to own a day care center one day.
“I’m just going to be a regular person,” Garrett said.
Vaughan jokes that her major is the discus. The junior owns the top throw by an American woman this year with the 211-foot, 8-inch effort she had in winning the SEC championships. Her personal-best ranks fifth on the all-time collegiate list and ninth in the world this year.
The Track & Field News form chart ranks American record-holder Gia Lewis Smallwood as the favorite to win the U.S. Championships this year, with Vaughan second. That makes Vaughan one of the favorites to make the U.S. Olympic Team for the Rio Games next summer.
“It’s just my life; it’s my future,” said Vaughan, who will graduate in May with a degree in recreational parks and tourism sciences in youth development. “I want to coach it; I want to throw it; I want to live it. I just love doing it. I love getting the younger generation excited about it.
“… All the throwing events aren’t really that popular. It’s kind of like where the non-athletic kids get sent, and I’m like, ‘It’s a sport. You’ve got to be athletic to be good at it.’”
Vaughan became a world-class junior discus thrower while in high school and placed fourth at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials even before enrolling at A&M.
She signed a volleyball scholarship with the Aggies and played both sports until this year when she began concentrating on the discus.
Vaughan has won every meet as a collegian except at the NCAA West preliminary round as a freshman, when competing with a back injury, she fouled three times.
“She is the best athlete we’ve ever had by far,” A&M throwing coach Juan De La Garza said. “By far. Not even close. I can go to when I started coaching, and we’ve never had anyone even close to her.”
Vaughan, the three-time SEC champion in the discus, won the NCAA title last year. After two fouls, she threw 189-0 to take the lead in the third round. Her winning toss of 196-11 topped second place by more than 9 1/2 feet.
“It’s really exciting,” Vaughan said of defending her NCAA championship. “It’s a lot of pressure, though. It’s a lot more pressure than I’ve ever had on myself, because I’ve never defended a big title like this. Going back into it with all this pressure I think is going to be really good for me.”
Garrett enters as the long shot in her second event, ranked 37th in the shot put. Her season best of 52-7 1/4 trails NCAA leader Tori Bliss of LSU by more than 8 feet.
Garrett finished seventh in the SEC championships (51-4 1/4) and 10th in the NCAA West Preliminary (51-11).
“I’ve always told her she’s also a very good shot putter,” said De La Garza, who is in his 24th season as an Aggies assistant coach. “It’s just a matter of her feeling confident in the event. I think she can be just as good in the shot put as she is in the hammer.
“… It wouldn’t surprise me if she goes out there and beats everybody. That’s how good she can be. She’s talented enough that she can go out there and beat everybody at any time.”
Garrett managed that in 2014 when she won the NCAA indoor weight throw with a 72-8 best. She placed fourth nationally indoors this year.
But Garrett entered the NCAA West meet last month ranked only 38th in the hammer with a season-best throw of 194-7. She had her season-best throw at 195-7 but placed only 20th, eight spots from qualifying for the NCAA meet.
The shot put became her last shot to extend her career.
Garrett entered the event ranked only 23rd, and she stood 15th after her first two attempts. But she qualified for the NCAA championships with a 51-11 toss that moved her to 10th.
“I didn’t expect to qualify in the shot,” said Garrett, whose brother, Myles, set the SEC freshman record with 11 sacks last season at A&M. “I was so ecstatic. It would kill me to know that I didn’t do my best, and I know I did. But it would also kill me to know that I had one more meet that I was supposed to go to. Not that I could have gone to; I was SUPPOSED to go, and the fact that that next meet will come and I know that there was still something I needed to finish would have killed my whole career. It’s a perfect cherry on top of the perfect sundae.”
No one will cheer harder for Vaughan than Garrett. No one will cheer harder for Garrett than Vaughan.
“I’m a proud sister,” Garrett said. “There’s no doubt she’s going to win.”
Garrett hopes to finish her career in the shot put finals, helping the Aggies repeat as national champions.
“I didn’t expect to be there, so anything I do for my team is now a double blessing,” Garrett said. “I want to finish my last meet satisfied with myself, and saying, ‘OK, I wrapped up this great year, a great chapter, a great career. Now, let’s see what else we can do.’”