At the beginning of the season, the NMU track team set a goal for the season – to finish in the top half of the conference, a mark that would mean the team finished in the top six. The team smashed that goal on April 29-May 1 at the GLIAC Outdoor Championships where they finished in fourth place.
Head coach Tom Barnes said he was pleased with the team’s performance in the meet.
“We were really happy (with the finish at the conference meet),” Barnes said. “Our goal at the start of the season was to be in the top half of the conference, so we were happy with our fifth place finish at the indoor conference meet, but this is even better.”
The Wildcats were led in the meet by Bailey Franklin who notched a first place finish in the triple jump, a second place finish in the heptathlon and a sixth place finish in the long jump.
Franklin was named the co-freshman of the year for the GLIAC.
Barnes said that the freshman held up well under the pressures of the big meet.
“Bailey’s got a lot of potential,” Barnes said. “She’s cool under pressure – I’ve never seen her get rattled.”
Northern finished the meet with 79 points, 23 points behind third place Hillsdale. Grand Valley State won the meet with 276 points.
According to Barnes, this year’s finish is a telling sign for the progress of the NMU program.
“This just shows that our team is getting stronger and deeper as we build our program. We’re getting a really high caliber of athlete,” Barnes said. “We’re attracting athletes who would otherwise be attending Saginaw Valley, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh or the University of Minnesota-Duluth. In that way I think this program has really been a benefit to the school.”
Barnes said this success in recruiting athletes starts with a fundamental approach.
“When we recruit people, we make sure they want to be here,” he said. “Academics is always No. 1 with this program, and we make sure they want to come to NMU for academics. If they don’t want to be here (for a reason other than athletics) then they will never truly be happy.”
This focus on academics is demonstrated through the team. Earlier this month the team was named to the NCAA Division-II all-academic teams.
Going into next year, Northern will be losing several key athletes, most notably Leslie Luehmann and Natalie Bertucci, two of the program’s top athletes. Despite the loss, Barnes has an optimistic outlook on the team’s future.
“I think we can (improve on this year’s performance). It’s no telling where we can go,” Barnes said. “I don’t like to make predictions, but I don’t see us dropping any next season.”
Another factor that Barnes credited to the emergence of this team was the coaching help he received from NMU students.
“It was great getting the help in coaching the team,” Barnes said. “The help that we got was a big difference in this season.”