The NMU Women’s Indoor Track and Field team will begin their seventh season on Dec. 5 at the St. Scholastica Season Opener in Duluth, Minn. Because most college track meets are not scored, head coach Tom Barnes’ goal for the meet is to simply do as best as they can.
“We’ll see what we can do [at Scholastica], we should do real well,” said Barnes, “It’ll be a good meet to see where we’re at before Christmas break, so we’ll see some good results.” A couple athletes that will be missed this upcoming season are graduates Leslie Luehmann and Natalie Bertucci. Both women participated in the jumps and hurdles.
“They were both real good athletes and we’re going to miss them,” said Barnes. Expected to fill in the gaps this season are the four senior captains: Karin Diebold, Megan Hendershot, Krista Squires and Erin VanEnkevort. Among these captains is a wide range of talents. Diebold does sprints and pole vault, Hendershot and VanEnkevort run distance and Squires participates in the throws. Also expected to do well this season is junior Brittnee Balbierz and sophomores Catherine Angeli and Bailey Franklin, all of whom participate in a number of different events.
“These girls contribute a lot because they do different events for us,” Barnes said. Also contributing to the team this season are the 20 plus freshman. Jamie Gotshall was third in Division 1 pole vault in high school; Barnes expects big things from her this season. Brooke Granquist will also be participating in several events this season. Olivia Juntila, who had a breakthrough performance this past cross country season, is also expected to excel on the track.
One of the most versatile returners this year is Melissa Christensen, a sophomore who specializes in the multi-events. She showed great promise last year, until she injured her knee at the GLIAC heptathlon competition and ended her season early.
“I was out all summer, but now I’m getting better,” Christensen said. She said that after last year, she is keeping her goals simple. “I want to finish the heptathlon this year at GLIACs. For a freshman, I thought I did exceptionally well [last year]. If I can just beat my times from last year, that would be awesome.”
Being a team, Barnes knows that he can’t rely on only a select number of athletes and that all of them must contribute: “I expect [everyone else] to do real well too. We’ve been working and we’ll see lots of improvements. That’s all we can ask for; do your best and see what happens,” Barnes said.
With so many athletes being able to compete in several events, Barnes has high hopes for this indoor season.
“We’d expect to be in the top 20 in the country and in the top half of our league or a little better if we can. We want to keep improving. We had a great season last year, and that sets a high standard for us this year,” said Barnes. “But we’re confident we can match that or do better.” Last season the team finished 19th in the country for the indoor season.
In order to attain these goals, all of the girls have been training extremely hard since school has started. While the distance runners were participating in cross country, the others were up early and working hard. The team practices six days a week, usually as early as 6:30 a.m.
“We get our work in early and then they concentrate on their school. School is number one,” Barnes said. The team was Academic All-American last year.
“I think being an athlete helps you be a better student,” Barnes explained. As the season starts, there really is no stopping. These track athletes will be competing in two different seasons. Once the indoor season has ended, the team has only a couple weeks to recuperate before the outdoor season starts.
“[We] have to try to peak for two championships, which is a tricky thing; but we’ve been fortunate. We’ve peaked at the right times most of the time,” Barnes noted. The team will travel for the first two meets of the season before competing at home on Jan. 23 at the Superior Dome.
“We’re really happy, we’ve come a long way and we’ve improved every year. I’m sure we’re going to improve this year [as well],” said Barnes.