Track team ranked 23rd in the nation

David Pleyel

The NMU indoor track and field team ran headfirst into the competition that awaited them last weekend and never looked back. The Wildcats took first place in six out of the 10 events at the LSSU Open, along with breaking three school records.

The team has been ranked No. 23 in the nation by the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

Head coach Tom Barnes said that his team has exceeded his expectations and expects to see great things from here on out.

“I’m extremely pleased with the results we had this past weekend,” Barnes said. “This team has such a great attitude and focuses on what needs to be taken care of in order to give the results we need to succeed. There is no doubt in my mind we will go far this season and be a top contender in our region and in the nation.”

Roberts also races in the 55-meter hurdles finals, along with Melissa Christensen (right). They finished second and third in the event. // Justin Key/NW

The Wildcats finished first with a team score of 42 against Northwood (31) and Lake Superior State (29). Each team was limited to two athletes in each event except for the 1,600-meter run where three from each team entered.

Melissa Christensen (8.93) and Jamie Roberts (8.95) finished first and second in the 55-meter hurdles. Catherine Angeli set a school record in the 55-meter dash, finishing first with a time of 7.35 seconds.

Brittany Loomis and Sara Cousineau also placed in the top three in the 3,000-meter run. Kristina Mattson (1:43.45) and Katrina Lamansky (1:45.60) both finished in the top three in the 600-meter run. The ’Cats had three runners finish at the top in the 1,600-meter run led by Kristen Schultz (5:24.24). Nora Kiilunen (5:24.78) was second and Mandy Dye (5:25.00) was third.

Bailey Franklin finished first in the high jump, clearing 5 feet, 5.75 inches.

Senior Brittnee Balbierz says that it feels great to come out with a win, knowing that all the hard work and efforts this team is putting forward are paying off and can’t wait for more opportunities to compete.

“We are all very excited and ready to show all teams in the GLIAC that we are ready to compete,” Balbierz said. “We are all very excited about this season finally getting started, and we really just want the chance to compete against other talented athletes and show what NMU runners have to offer.”

Balbierz was the top finisher in the 300-meter dash, setting a new school record time of 42.93. She says that she couldn’t have asked for a better way to end her last LSSU meet.

The ’Cats then hosted their only home meet, the NMU Northern Challenge, on Sat. Jan. 21. Although the meet was not scored, history was still made.

Junior Bailey Franklin had broken her previous high jump record of 5 feet, 5.75 inches, to a record-breaking 5 feet, 8.75 inches. This automatically qualified Franklin for the 2011 National Division II Indoor/Outdoor Track and Field Championships. In order to have an automatic qualifier for the high jump, athletes must have at least 5 feet, 7 inches.

Franklin said that everything fit perfectly into place, and the -confidence she has gained will only help from here on out.

“On Friday at LSSU, I provisionally qualified for Nationals in the high jump, but ended up missing at about 5 feet, 7 inches,” Franklin said.  “Right after that I looked at my coach, Justin, and told him I can go higher than that. He just nodded and was like, ‘I know. We’ll get it tomorrow.’ So going into the Northern meet, I knew what I wanted to do and everything just fit together perfectly. I was beyond excited about it, especially because my friends and family got to see it also.”

Freshman Jamie Roberts also achieved a provisional qualifier in the pole vault by clearing 12 feet, 3.25 inches. In order to earn an automatic qualifier athletes must clear 12 feet, 9 inches.

Head coach Tom Barnes also honored four of the graduating seniors at the NMU meet: Brittnee Balbierz, Kristen Schulz, Jessica Krob and Krista Hoklas. Barnes and his team also raised over $1,000 for cancer awareness and presented the donation to teammate Christina Donnelly who has battled cancer since last summer.