There was only one thing Zach Lurz and Cody Boellstorff hated more than losing during their collegiate track and field careers.

Losing to each other.

Now, this was no blood feud between the two Concordia throwers. Nor was it a simple, jovial rivalry between two easy-going teammates content with whatever the results turned out.

No, it was a driving competition. And one that helped both achieve success as Bulldogs.

"It's pretty easy to get better every day when you have to be your best every day, to compete against your own teammate," Lurz said.

And it wasn't just at meets. It was at practice, in the weight room, every day.

"Every time we had to practice at the same time it was, 'Gosh I really just don't want to throw shorter than this guy' or 'He beat me yesterday, I can't let him do that again,'" Boellstorff said. "Every day for five years.

"Just dealing with that every day, it pushed you."

Both capped their careers last month with more All-American finishes at the NAIA Outdoor Championships and, in turn, are the Journal Star's State College Male Co-Athletes of the Year.

The former accolades being something neither thought was possible when then came to Concordia as slightly undersized throwers. Lurz, who went to Chadron for three years before finishing high school in Torrington, Wyoming, came to Seward to play football initially. Boellstorff, a Waverly graduate, was lightly recruited out of high school and came in as a shot putter.

When it was all said and done, the duo amassed 20 total All-American finishes and six national titles during their careers. Lurz won three titles, all in the shot put, between indoor and outdoor, and Boellstorff won two outdoor titles in the hammer throw and added an indoor title in the weight throw.

That national success, in addition to all the Great Plains Athletic Conference titles and school records, was a result of their hard work and dedication. Bulldogs throwing coach Ed McLaughlin had many stories about the two almost going too far and working too hard.

There were stories of returning from indoor nationals after riding overnight on a bus and returning early Sunday morning, after which the two got a lift in Sunday night and then put in a throwing session Monday afternoon. The GPAC outdoor conference meet closed on a Saturday afternoon, and there they were doing a hammer practice session on Sunday night.

"The level of commitment they put into trying to become the best throwers they possibly could be and working at it constantly for five years," McLaughlin said of what will always stand out about the two. "Once they decided this is what they wanted to do, they committed to it fully and to the point I was telling them to take days off."

Because a day off meant someone else is potentially getting ahead.

"The great thing about the two of them is they never really let it get to them," McLaughlin said. "It never became a thing where I always had to worry about humble them down or making them realize that they had to go back to work. That was never the issue, to the point I still had to kick them out of the weight room the week before nationals.

"Out of the athletes I've ever worked with in 20 years, you're talking about 1A and 1A1."

Lurz knew coming in that success was never guaranteed. The son of a coach, he said the throwers before helped instill the program standard and established the work expectation, in addition to providing daily competition.

"We just ended up with the plaques," Lurz said.

It was also an ability to adapt to technique. McLaughlin said Lurz probably listened to him too much on technical points, but Lurz has become a true student of the sport.

"We can have a two-hour conversation about the ins and outs of a shot put throw," McLaughlin said. "Like one throw. We can do that, he's always been able to do that."

Boellstorff had a more auspicious start. Coming in as a shot putter, he had no hammer experience and struggled mightily with the technique early, McLaughlin recalled. Boellstorff was a great athlete and quick study, but McLaughlin remembered thinking that the hammer might never drop.

And then the switch flipped.

"By the time we were doing outdoor season (Boellstorff's freshman) year, he was an All-American in (hammer)," McLaughlin said. "It was that quick. It went from, 'I don't know if he's ever going to figure it out' to 'Oh, my gosh, he's one of the best in the NAIA already.'"

Boellstorff finished his career as a four-time All-American in the hammer, with titles in 2015 and the other last month (he redshirted the 2016 outdoor season).

"I was thinking I was going to go out and do my best for shot put," Boellstorff said. "I picked up the hammer and I had no idea it would come this far."

Now, both move on to the next pursuit: coaching. Lurz started last week as a full-time assistant coach, focusing on throws, at NAIA Dakota Wesleyan in Mitchell, South Dakota. Boellstorff took a graduate assistant position at Missouri Western, a Division II school in St. Joseph, as head throws coach.

Boellstorff is taking some time off from competition, but still has aspirations of making the U.S. national team. If it still feels like something he can accomplish and strive for, he plans on giving it a shot. 

Lurz always knew he wanted to get into coaching, even as far back as a decade ago. There's a dearth of available throwing coaches in the Midwest, something he'd like to change. While taking over a young program that will require some rebuilding, he's ready for the challenge.

"Passing that on to the next generation has been a big driver for me," Lurz said.

Because there's a whole new generation of throwers looking for their chance to outwork the competition.

Reach the writer at crobus@journalstar.com or 402-473-2646. On Twitter @ClintRobus.


Digital sports editor

Clint Robus is the digital and assistant sports editor at the Journal Star.

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