Track runner helps lead team to success

John Becker

Great leaders are known for rallying their team, giving it the boost it needs to succeed and pulling the team out of any ruts it may fall into. Leaders must see their team through the best and worst moments.

NMU track and field head coach Tom Barnes said senior captain Brittnee Balbierz exemplifies the qualities of a great leader.

“She’s always positive, prepared when the race comes up, and has a right-now attitude. She has confidence that carries over to the other athletes,” Barnes said.

Balbierz has been running on the track since middle school, and said that she’s been alongside her teammate Catherine Angeli since that time. The two were part of a two-time winning U.P. Championship track team, and during Balbierz’s senior year of high school, fellow Wildcat freshman Katy Lafayette was a freshman with the Marquette Redmen, adding to the group of long-time teammates.

Balbierz said one of the perks of working with familiar faces during the four-runner relay is smoother transitions for quicker finish times.

“I just look at my takeoff mark and when I step on it, I take off sprinting,” she said. “When you’ve been doing it for so long with these people, you know when they’re going to say ‘stick,’ and there’s this weird feeling like you’re in each other’s minds, so you know when they’re going to say it.”

The mind-reading must have paid off as Balbierz, Angeli, Lafayette and freshman Samara White hold the school’s records in the indoor 4×200-meter relay (4:02.13) and the outdoor 4×100 relay (48.06 seconds).

Balbierz said the relay is especially satisfying to succeed in because it is a collective effort.

“You have your teammates relying on you, and you’re depending on them, and it all comes together. Especially when you win, it’s something amazing to feel,” she said.

With the current event-by-event record-breaking occurring within the track team, Barnes said he believes the runners will break their outdoor record again before the end of the season and they have potential to earn first place at the GLIAC championships, with the right guidance.

“We’ll need to do everything just right to win it, and Brittnee is a key to that. She’s a senior, she’s been through this before, and we have two freshmen on that team, so the leadership is so important,” Barnes said.

Balbierz also holds the school’s indoor track record for the 300-meter run at 42.93 seconds, which she earned at LSSU on Jan. 21, 2010.

Balbierz said she only got one chance to run that race, but was glad to have even one opportunity to participate.

“In indoor track, not all events have the 300-meter run, and they don’t have it in outdoor track at all, so it was kind of a one-time deal,” Balbierz said. “It was special that I got the record and it was my first and last time running it.”

Barnes said the team will miss Balbierz, who has exhausted her final year of eligibility but still has one more year at Northern before finishing her degree.

“She has confidence in herself and I think that carries over into everything she does,” Barnes said. “Her academics are way up there. She’s going to be successful in life; that’s the kind of person she is.”