The Northern Michigan University track and field team will play host to the Northern Challenge, beginning at 11 a.m., Saturday (Feb. 9) at the Superior Dome. It is the lone home event for the Wildcats this year. Admission is free. About 300 athletes will participate in the non-team scored event.
“This meet will be an exciting competition for us,” said NMU coach Tom Barnes. “It will be great for the women to have a chance to compete in front of their fellow students, teachers, friends and family.”
Northern has had three meets to kick off the indoor portion of the 2008 season. The squad opened the year at the Saginaw Valley State University Holiday Indoor Classic on Dec. 8 where senior Danielle St. Onge (Marquette) set a team record of 8.05 seconds with her fourth-place finish in the 60-meter dash.
At the Lake Superior University Classic on Jan. 26, junior Leslie Luehmann (Ishpeming) tied a school record with a winning high jump of 5-4. She also finished second to junior Natalie Bertucci (Ishpeming) in the 55-meter hurdles. Additionally, senior Stephanie Boyer (Rapid River) won the 200 meters (26.42) while sophomore Erin VanEnkevort (Bark River) took the 800 (2:28.53) and sophomore Krista Squiers (Owosso) captured the weight throw (43-7.25).
Despite last Saturday’s (Feb. 2) NCAA Division II Challenge at Saginaw Valley State in Midland being cancelled due to inclement weather, NMU and several other teams schedule to compete there returned to LSSU for an impromptu meet in Sault Ste. Marie., Mich. Bertucci won the 55-meter hurdles with an NMU record time of 8.72, her third Wildcat mark in as many meets. Boyer won the 200 with freshman Brittnee Balbierz (Marquette) finishing second. NMU’s relay of freshman Jessica Trotochaud (Marquette), VanEnkevort, St. Onge and Boyer captured the top 4 X 400 spot.
Coming in to the year, Coach Tom Barnes said the team was focused. “Our team goal can be summed up in a word: determination. We are determined to improve and to do our best every time we practice and compete.”
A year ago, Northern finished seventh at both the indoor and outdoor Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships. This year – the program’s fifth season of existence – Northern hopes to improve upon that ranking. Although Northern lost six starters from the 2007 contingent, Barnes says the team has increased depth in several events and has more maturity than ever before in returning veterans such as Boyer, Luehmann, Squiers and St. Onge. The 41-women roster consists of six seniors, nine juniors, 10 sophomores and 18 freshmen.
“We want to finish in the top half of the field at the GLIAC Championships,” Barnes said. “If everyone stays healthy, we know we can get more points than we did a year ago and climb in the standings.”
Boyer led the way for Northern last year with dominating performances in the 200 and 400. She holds the school records for the indoor 200 (26.18) and 400 (58.96), as well as the outdoor marks for the 200 (25.62) and 400 (57.57). St. Onge holds marks in the indoor 55 (7.40) and 60 (8.13) and the outdoor 100 (12.62).
Luehmann and Squiers are impact performers. Luehmann has been a hurdler for the ‘Cats, but last spring she took on the heptathlon and surprised her competition by achieving a school record of 3,757 points. Squiers has been the NMU’s strongest field competitor, competing in all throwing events. Squiers was close to being an NCAA Division II provisional qualifier in the javelin. In indoor events, Squiers holds the school record for the weight throw (46-9) and shot put (36-2). She also has an outdoor school record in the hammer throw (133-8.75).
“The team is very dedicated and hard working. Last year, we worked together well and the women took on a lot of individual responsibility that benefitted the team as a whole,” Barnes said.
Barnes also expects pole vaulters sophomore Karin Diebold (Ellsworth) and junior Paris Malin (Seaview, Wash.) to step up. “They did well last year and they are working hard now, so I’m excited to see what they’ll accomplish this year. We have depth in this event with some newcomers, too, so this could be a strong event for us,” he said.
Furthermore, several athletes from the cross country team are ready to start their “second” season of the year, including sophomore Bibiane Mahy (Porcupine, Ont.) and VanEnkevort, junior Jenny Wiedmeyer (Waukesha, Wis.) and seniors Brittney Coehoorn (Pulaski, Wis.), and Danielle Stein (Kalkaska). “These runners finished the cross country season strong and I expect them to continue strong in track in the middle and the long distance races,” said Barnes.
Barnes has high hopes for some of the newcomers, too, including Michelle Bisig (Milford) who also ran for NMU’s cross country team this past fall. Additionally, Balbierz and Trotochaud are hometown favorites that Barnes thinks will surprise people.
“Michelle did well in cross country for a freshman. Brittnee might surprise some people as a rookie. She’s a great athlete and I look forward to seeing her and Jessica, who was her high school teammate at (Marquette Senior High,), compete together at this level. Jessica will become a heptathlete for us and I think she’ll be a natural at it. We have several newcomers who will expect will contribute right away.”
With this week’s home meet and next week’s St. Scholastica Invite (Feb. 16) as the final tests before the Wildcats can gauge their improvement at the indoor GLIAC meet on Feb. 29-March 1 in Findlay, Ohio, expect to see that determination Barnes is so excited about on display at the Dome on Saturday. They are ‘Cats on the prowl, said Barnes.
“I think some of our athletes have potential to be NCAA qualifiers if they continue to put the effort they’ve been putting into their performances and there are no injuries.”
Written by: Kyle Teasley
Director of Communications