I'm having trouble being anything but proud of how the Panthers competed this past weekend at the 2012 Missouri Valley Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships. I know I am supposed to be upset about not winning the team titles, but I don't remember having so many moments to celebrate.
Corey Szamlewski. Less than a year ago I watched a senior pole vaulter from McHenry High School in Illinois compete at the Illinois Prep Top Times meet. There was something special in this kid. He was raw, athletic and fearless. On Friday Corey entered his first MVC meet as a Panther. Coach Bertoli told me Corey was ready to jump high. "Trust me," he said. Corey started the competition with a personal best of 15'7". He cleared 15'9; we cheered. He cleared 16'1"; we screamed. He cleared 16'5; we went crazy. He cleared 16'9" and we lost our minds knowing we were witnessing something we'd never forget. Four PR's in a row and Corey finished the best MVC Vault competition in history with a 3rd place finish. And a claim on the future.
Corey's Four(!) Personal Bests
Every so often you get a senior who decides to run down a dream in their last year. Michaela Brungardt has always been talented. But a change has come over her in her final year that has been absolutely thrilling to observe. She quietly put in the extra work last summer. She has quietly moved up the rankings all indoor season and improved her personal best nearly every week. In the finals of the 400m on Saturday, Michaela's gutsy race produced the greatest performance in the history of Northern Iowa. She was better than even she thought she could be. That's one of the greatest things any coach can witness. Michaela followed that performance up with a terrific leg on the best 4x400m relay in UNI history. Does hard work and discipline pay off? I have a very happy senior that knows the answer.
As a freshman in the fall of 2010, sprinter Cam Brown tried out for the UNI track team. He had a thin resume and a bad hamstring. He was told what most athletes are told when they aren't ready to have a meaningful experience in our program; train on your own, get better, and try out again next fall. Most we never see again. Cam took the news like a man and did exactly what we told him to do.This fall Cam tried out again, healthier, stronger and faster. I threw everything I had at him to get him to break. But he didn't break. In fact, he was as good as any of our recruited athletes. I hadn't planned on adding any roster spots with this fall's try-outs, but created one for the kind of kid I want in our program. Now that he is officially a UNI athlete, Cam works his tail off, never complains and asks for nothing but the opportunity to compete as a Panther. Last Friday Cam sprinted his way into the MVC 60 meter Finals in his very first conference meet. Like Cam Brown, the two points he earned on Saturday are made of the salt of the Earth.
As a freshman in the fall of 2008, Derek Kramer joined the Panther team as a broken athlete. Marred with injuries, he barely was able to compete. His injuries continued into the fall of 2009. I told him to take the year off and get healthy. Never giving up, he came out again in the fall of 2010, this time reasonably healthy. Derek heroically made the 60m MVC Finals last year. Incredibly, he went on to run on the 2011 MVC Champion 4x100m relay squad and later earned 2nd team All-America honors in the same event. This 2012 indoor season, Derek has established himself as a bonifide MVC sprint threat. "We're going to sweep the 60," he said to me a couple of months ago. With two-time MVC 60m Champion, Carlos Anderson and two-time MVC 100m Champion, Jared Herring; Derek Kramer's prediction came true. With those three athletes and the help of the unlikely Cam Brown, UNI scored an eye-popping 26 points in the 60m on Saturday.
You would never know the unflappable Daniel Gooris has had a rough road. Always positive, always happy, the excellent student, Gooris epitomizes that which we all strive for in athletics. Four years ago as a true freshman, he won the the MVC Heptathlon title. One week later he nearly lost his life in a horrific motorcycle accident. His journey to this second title was a long one. He was the overwhelming favorite this year and most people didn't see his win as very extraordinary. His parents, on the other hand, traveled all the way from New Mexico to watch him win it. They know a miracle when they see one.
Daniel's 2nd MVC Title
Olimpia Nowak has accomplished nearly everything you can as a collegiate athlete. On Friday in the Pentathlon she was simply brilliant. Olimpia broke her own school records in the 60m hurdles and the pentathlon en route to one of the top scores in the country. Next week she will have one final indoor meet as a panther when she takes on the very best in America at the NCAA Championships. Also a stellar student, Olimpia represents all we strive to be in UNI Track and Field.
Olimpia's 60m Hurdles School Record
UNI pole vaulter and school record holder, Jenna Wexter has attempted to clear 13' for three years. I have witnessed the hard work and the frustration. Even though she has experienced much success in these three seasons, that 13' barrier had eluded her until Saturday. Our joy in watching her clear that bar was exceeded only by her own.
Jenna's School Record
In the most inspired performance of the 2011 Indoor MVC Championships, Justin Romero stole the Shot Put title. All year Justin has been predicting a repeat performance. Justin wasn't even close to being the favorite this year, but that didn't stop him from delivering on his promise.
Justin Romero's Win
The 4x400m Relay is my favorite event in track and field. This weekend, the Panthers won both men's and women's titles in dramatic fashion. Six of the eight athletes were true freshman, but all competed like seasoned veterans. The videos below are worth the viewing.
MVC Men's 4x400m Relay
MVC Women's 4x400m Relay
All in all, the Panther men and women did a terrific job. We set PR's all over the place and stepped up and competed wonderfully. I am very proud of these teams. Like I said at the beginning of this post; I don't remember having so many moments to celebrate.