After Tori Bliss uncorked a couple big throws early in the season, the Portage graduate got in touch with her mom and told her to book a flight for Eugene, Ore., in June.
When the LSU junior popped a toss of 57 feet, 4 1/4 inches to finish second in the shot put at the NCAA Outdoor Championships Saturday in Oregon, Debbie Bliss was there.
"One of the things I was happiest about was being able to share the moment with my mom," Bliss said.
Former Portage coach Chuck Heimberg was also there with his family, having planned vacation time around the meet, and it didn't take long for Bliss's cell phone, Twitter and Facebook to blow up with dozens of congratulations.
"I'm overwhelmed by the love and support from everybody," Bliss said. "It means so much to me to have the backing from my days at Portage, people saying, 'I'm following you,' 'Good luck.' It's awesome."
Bliss left Portage a multi-state champion and is now knocking on the door of national supremacy, a dramatic improvement spurred by a technical change made early last season during indoors.
"It's really exciting to watch," LSU throws coach Derek Yush said. "Tori's awesome to work with. She's one I never have to ask to work hard. The bottom line was she was just close to maxxed out with the glide technique. She wasn't making the progress we thought she could be making. It was limiting her power and athleticism. Her baseline has really taken off."
It didn't take a lot of convincing for Bliss to buy into the change to the rotational method. She topped out at 51-7 1/4 as a freshman, which was good, but not great. The transition wasn't easy, and Bliss had her moments of doubt, wondering if she made the right choice, but it soon all came together. She reached 55-11 as a sophomore, breaking a 19-year old school record, and continued her ascent this spring.
"It's coming along a lot faster than I expected," Bliss said before practice Wednesday morning in steamy Baton Rouge. "I've put myself in position to be a top-notch thrower."
Bliss was seeded outside the top 10, but seized the lead in the second round, breaking her own school record and held it until the last series of throws, when Iowa State's Christina Hillman threw 58-2.
"My expectations were very high," Bliss said. "I'd been feeling really good the last month and hitting some good throws in practice. I had a plan to put myself in position and when I actually did it. it was excitement and relief all at once."
The effort earned Bliss a berth in next week's USA Nationals in Sacramento, where she will compete for the first time against post-graduate and professional competition.
"It'll be my first taste of the circuit," she said. "I'm going to enjoy myself and focus on the experience."
Yush gives Bliss a solid chance of qualifying for the U.S. U-23 national team that will compete in Canada in August. He's even more excited about her seemingly unlimited ceiling, not just with her mechanical adjustments but with tweaks she's made to her mental outlook.
"Tori can be her own worst enemy," Yush said. "She wants to be the best all the time. She's taking a much better approach on her path to success. That supersedes anything technical that we can do."