She’s back:  Maria Bienvenu overcomes surgery, qualifies for NCAA Outdoors

Natchitoches native and St. Mary’s High School product Maria Bienvenu has continued her impressive comeback story by qualifying for next week’s NCAA Outdoor Championships competing for UL Lafayette in the women’s javelin.

Bienvenu lived up to her seeding entering the NCAA East Region Opening Round competition in Jacksonville, Fla., and finished fifth in her event last Thursday.

The sophomore’s throw of 169 feet, 11 inches clinched one of the 12 East Regional spots to advance to the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Austin, Texas, next week. Bienvenu will compete among the nation’s top 24 collegiate women at 5:45 p.m. on Thursday, June 8 with event coverage provided on ESPN+ pay-per-view network.

Madison Wiltrout of North Carolina won the East regional with a 184-11 throw, followed by Leonie Troeger of Cincinnati (180-1), Megan Albamonti from Delaware (174-0), Duke’s Dana Baker (170-10) and Bienvenu in the top five among 48 regional qualifiers.

Bienvenu posted her best mark on her first throw of last Thursday’s competition, a distance that at the time placed her fourth. She recorded throws of 151-5 and 164-11 on her final two throws.

She has completed her comeback from elbow surgery that halted her first sophomore season season. As a freshman, she finished 12th at the 2021 NCAA Outdoors in the javelin with a school record 175-1 mark in Eugene, Ore., to earn second-team All-America honors in her first full season in the sport.

But after extending the record to 175-9 early the next season,  it became apparent that reconstructive elbow surgery was necessary, and Bienvenu went through a demanding rehabilitation process to try to regain her prior form. She took a medical redshirt season for 2022.

Her early season performances this spring showed the work paid off. She won the Sun Belt Conference javelin championship earlier this month, and with her return to the national meet, her comeback is nearly complete.

The top eight in the national championships are first-team All-Americans; finishers 9-16 make second team. Whatever the result, Bienvenu is already a big winner with another remarkable chapter in her competitive career.

She didn’t compete in the sport until the end of her senior season at St. Mary’s, a few weeks after she was an All-State standout on the Lady Tigers’ state championship squad. Coached by former national high school boys’ record-holder Corwyn Aldredge Jr., she impressed college coaches at the state meet and earned scholarship offers, choosing to go south to UL Lafayette, where she made continuing offseason improvement and then exploded in a massively-successful freshman campaign, her first full season throwing the javelin.

Photo courtesy UL Lafayette Athletics