Kansas State track and field coach Cliff Rovelto is happy he was wrong.
Rovelto predicts the results of every meet before it begins. On Friday, as the Big 12 outdoor championships began, he analyzed the competition and predicted the K-State women would finish fourth, totaling about 100 points behind Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas. Not bad, he thought, for a young team.
So you can imagine the emotions that flowed through his body as he watched the Wildcats pile up a program-record 133 points over the next three days and win a conference championship, their third overall and first since 2002, on Sunday in Lawrence.
“Those young kids are good. I knew what they were capable of doing, but a lot of them just hadn’t been in a competition like that,” Rovelto said Monday morning. “It doesn’t take much. You lose a point or two here or a point or two there and you’re not winning. You kind of expect mental errors and physical errors from them, they just didn’t do that. They didn’t perform like people who were there for the first time. They, almost across the board, competed like they had done this a few times, which is really neat to see.”
Nina Schultz led the way. The freshman from New Westminster, British Columbia, epitomized K-State’s surprising surge to the top by setting personal records in multiple events.
Schultz won the Big 12 women’s high jump title with a leap of 5 feet, 11 1/2 inches and scored more points than anyone else. She scored in the javelin, long jump, high jump, 100-meter hurdles and 1600 relay to finish with 25 total points.
“What makes her special is her competitiveness,” Rovelto said. “It’s her first Big 12 championship outdoors and she (sets personal records) in the javelin, hurdles, high jump and relay. What can you say? Every time she stepped out there, she was doing better than she had ever done before.”
The future appears bright for Schultz. On top of her strong showing over the weekend, she was the first K-State freshman to compete in the pentathlon at the NCAA indoor championships in March.
That was fun. This was better.
“I had a moment of joy for myself being able to (get a personal record) and win the Big 12 championship title for the high jump,” Schultz said, “and then it really set in that I just made 10 points for my team and we were really close to that championship. That’s when the real joy and excitement started to pour in, and my teammates were all there to support me. That’s when I realized it was real.”
Morgan Wedekind, a senior runner from Wichita, had a similar feeling when she won the 3,000-meter steeplechase. After struggling to score points for her team in previous Big 12 championships, she beat her previous personal record by 13 seconds and took first.
“It was just really exciting,” Wedekind said. “We were all screaming and dancing and hopping around.”
Rovelto expected K-State to earn five points from that event. Instead, it won 14, with Kayla Doll taking fifth. Those results made him start believing.
“About everything that could turn right for us did,” Rovelto said.
Celebrating as a team made the trophy presentation particularly sweet.
Janee’ Kassanavoid (hammer throw), Shadae Lawrence (Discus), Schultz and Wedekind all won individual championships, but second-place finishes from Wurrie Njadoe (long jump), Shardia Lawrence (triple jump) and K-State’s relay team were every bit as important to securing the team championship over Texas, which finished with 128.5 points.
“It’s something we knew we were totally capable of, but this weekend we came together as a team and supported each other,” Kassanavoid said. “We were out at the track when we weren’t competing, cheering for everyone on the team. We wanted it, and I feel like we deserved it. ... It’s been really fun looking back at all the videos and posts from the event. We are all really proud to be a Wildcat today.”
The Wildcats partied into the night with their newest trophy and gathered around it again on Monday.
Few expected them to win the Big 12, and that made the victory so satisfying.
“They are just hard to get,” Rovelto said of conference championships. “Texas is historically a top-four team (nationally). Then you have got two or three other programs that more often than not are ranked top 20 nationally. It’s not like you are beating chopped liver when you get them.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett