Rylie Matthews is all too familiar with rejection.
As a junior in high school, Matthews joined the track team after softball coaches at Grantsville High School cut her in tryouts. The next year she set a school record and placed at the state track meet in the javelin, only to be almost completely unrecruited. Matthews walked on at Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix only to have what she called a disapointing sophomore season.
Disappointing, that is, until she won the javelin at the NJCAA regional meet. Matthews then threw a personal best of 39.56 meters (about 129 feet, 9.5 inches) at nationals, good enough to take fourth place.
“Toward the end, things started kind of clicking,” she said. “It was the biggest relief I’ve probably ever felt. It was so satisfying with how things went. I was kind of in shock when it happened, because it really showed that all the hard work I put in throughout the season really did pay off.”
Matthews’ final mark was eight spots better than the seeding chart expected and good enough for another school record.
“I was very, very confident in her ability to do well,” said assistant throws coach Nick Sheuerman. “I think this is just the beginning for her. She has improved so much over the course of this year. She has learned how to be a better athlete so much that I think going forward, we’re going to see a lot more from her.”
Life hasn’t been glamorous for Matthews at Paradise Valley. Former head coach Todd Lehmen — the only coach to recruit Matthews out of high school and the man who offered Matthews a walk-on spot on his track roster — left PVCC to take a Division I coaching job at Grand Canyon University.
“I had a really good bond with him,” Matthews said of. “He taught me a lot, and then over the summer he found out that he was getting a new coaching position and just kind of — I wouldn’t really say left us, but he just took the job.”
Matthews said it was especially difficult for her because the program during her sophomore season was managed differently than it was her freshman year.
“It was kind of a process because we had almost a whole new coaching staff,” she said. “It was hard.”
It may have been a process for the new coaching staff to get used to Matthews as well.
“I always knew she was a tough girl,” Sheuerman said. “She has a lot of fight and she’s very determined to succeed.”
“It almost got the best of her in that she was having a tough time controlling her emotions and being disciplined,” he added. “I think probably the biggest factor that has contributed to her success and development in the past year as an athlete is her ability to control her emotions and to be constructive with her passion and her energy.”
Matthews said she put herself under a lot of pressure to hit performance marks she set for herself.
“Outdoor season was hard,” she said, “having a new coach and trying to figure things out. It wasn’t the best and I was getting worried because I wasn’t qualifying for nationals and throwing what I was supposed to.”
It’s a lot of stress for someone who wasn’t even given a scholarship to be on the team despite maintaining at least a 3.0 GPA at Paradise Valley.
“I know there are hardships she’s had to endure,” Sheuerman said. “She’s a working girl. She’s worked three different jobs to support herself during this.”
Matthews said not being financially awarded for her performances gave her a little bit of a chip on her shoulder.
“Since I came to school out of state they couldn’t really give me any scholarships,” Matthews said. “It’s hard because there’s a lot of kids that come. They have these scholarships and it’s like they think they don’t have to work hard because they already got a scholarship and they’re already in, where for me, I didn’t get a scholarship. I had to really work harder than everyone else and bust my butt at practice and go the extra mile to really be good, to really earn a place on the team.”
Current PVCC head coach Dustin Imdieke said he enjoyed watching Matthews become an independent young woman over the past two years.
“Anytime that you’re coming out of state to go to college, there are challenging situations that make life more difficult,” Imdieke said. “Over the two years that I could get to see her enjoy Phoenix and just enjoy the people she’s around so much more.”
“It really was fantastic,” Imdieke added of how he felt when Matthews placed so well at the national meet. “We saw her work so hard over the two years, and especially during this last year when she was really trying to dive right in and get it right.”
Matthews will throw for Grand Canyon next season — the same university Lehman took a coaching position at between Matthews’ freshman and sophomore years — and Sheuerman said he knows Matthews will do well at the next level.
“I think success is just a byproduct of her development as a person,” Sheuerman said. “I am most proud of her development in terms of her character rather than her athletic successes. I think her development in terms of her approach to the sport, her character is the determining factor in her success.”