Sometimes Wichita State track and field coach Steve Rainbolt has to admit when he’s lucky. And when it comes to Tanya Friesen, he admits he’s lucky.
Friesen thought Rainbolt’s vision for her was a little too hopeful, but not even he could have imagined what unfolded this weekend during the Missouri Valley Conference track and field championships at Cessna Stadium.
Friesen climbed to the top of the podium, accepting her title of Valley champion in the women’s heptathlon with a personal-best score of 5,472 that guaranteed her a spot NCAA championships for the second consecutive season.
“There was no way to imagine this when we recruited her,” Rainbolt said. “She appeared to be talented when she was a high school girl, but nothing like this. Nothing would have indicated she would have been top 16 in NCAA Division I.”
But there was Friesen, coming through with a 10-second improvement on her all-time best in the 800-meter run, the last heptathlon event, to ensure her first MVC title. When the Buhler graduate was challenged, it drew out her best, finishing in 2 minutes, 19.70 seconds. That’s been a constant theme in her three years at Wichita State.
“I hated going into it knowing it was my weakest link and I had to stay within 10 seconds of (her main competitor),” Friesen said. “But you have to run a good 800 if you are going to be good at the multi. I’ve pushed myself to limits I didn’t even think I could reach.”
Friesen’s victory was the only one on Saturday for the Wichita State women, who take a 13-point lead over the field into the final day that has 12 finals left. The WSU men narrowly lead the field with 13 events left today.
“It’s just a nail-biter all the way around,” Rainbolt said. “I feel like our team is holding it together nicely and advancing into the finals pretty much the way we anticipated and hoped. I feel like we have a chance for both teams to battle for championships.”
There was no one busier on Saturday than Friesen. Not only did she have her three events to finish in the heptathlon, she placed third in the long jump (19-2¾) and seventh in the high jump (5-5) and also ran a preliminary race in the 100 hurdles.
Other notable finishes for the women came from J’Lynn Ledesma (second in high jump), Jaclyn Abrahamian (fourth in heptathlon) and Sarah Gilbert (fourth in high jump).
“It’s been one heck of a day,” Friesen said after her 10-hour day had ended around 8 p.m.
The men’s team made its move on Saturday in the decathlon, scoring 23 points from Mac Griffith (7,087), Justin Hickey (7,031), Tobias Boese (6,808) and Alex Freshour (6,736).
“It’s a competition every day in practice,” said Griffith, who also took sixth in the high jump. “It’s awesome having a huge group like this compete against one another. I came from juco and most of the time there it was just me. So this is pretty cool, it’s like we’re all one big group.”
While there were only four finals on Saturday, the men scored major points from Tomas Cotter winning the 3000-meter steeplechase in a time of 9:00.74. Austin Bahner added eight points with his second-place finish in long jump with a personal-best 23-11¾ and Brandon Childs scored six in the high jump.
Even though the coaches predicted both Wichita State teams to take the team titles this weekend, they aren’t taking that approach within the team.
“We still look at it like we’re the underdogs,” Bahner said. “That way, it helps us keep pushing forward. Every point counts. Every inch, every final we can get into, it all adds up in the end.”
Team scores—1. Wichita State 91½; 2. Southern Illinois 78½; 3. Illinois State 77; 4. Indiana State 47; 5. Northern Iowa 29½; 6. Missouri State 11; 7. Drake 9½; 8. Bradley 7.
Long jump—1. Grant, Missouri State, 20-9¼; 2. Love, Southern Illinois, 20-2½; 3. Friesen, Wichita State, 19-2¾; 4. Steffen, Indiana State, 19-2½; 5. Spencer, Indiana State, 18-11¾. Shot put—1. McCall, Southern Illinois, 58-8½; 2. Smith, Illinois State, 56-8¾; 3. Johnson, Indiana State, 54-3¼; 4. Theisen, Indiana State, 52-4½; 5. Fortney, Southern Illinois, 50-5½. High jump—1. Culmer, Southern Illinois, 5-11¼; 2. Ledesma, Wichita State, 5-10; 3. Anderson, Illinois State, 5-8¾; 4. Gilbert, Wichita State, 5-7¾; 5. Nowak, Northern Iowa, 5-5. 3000m Steeplechase—1. Zillmer, Illinois State, 10:35.82; 2. Sigg, Illinois State, 10:40.45; 3. Dalton, Indiana State, 10:47.31; 4. McShea, Illinois State, 10:50.20; 5. Darnell, Southern Illinois, 10:53.62.
Heptathlon—1. Friesen, Wichita State, 5472; 2. Knodle, Northern Iowa, 5392; 3. Isom-Brummer, Drake, 4786; 4. Abrahamian, Wichita State, 4495; 5. Steffen, Indiana State, 4460.
Team scores—1. Wichita State 73; 2. Indiana State 67½; 3. Northern Iowa 50; 4. Southern Illinois 47½; 5. Illinois State 43; 6. Drake 27; 7. Bradley 4.
High jump—1. Clay, Indiana State, 7-0¼; 2. Christensen, Indiana State, 6-11; 3. Childs, Wichita State, 6-9¾; 4. Leuer, Northern Iowa, 6-8; 5. DeJaegher, Illinois State, 6-8. Shot put—1. Jensen, Illinois State, 61-5¾; 2. Romero, Northern Iowa, 58-6½; 3. Williams, Northern Iowa, 56-10; 4. Fields, Indiana State, 55-6½; 5. Dubree, Wichita State, 55-0. Long jump—1. Karys, Drake, 24-1; 2. Bahner, Wichita State, 23-11¾; 3. Palacious, Southern Illinois, 23-8; 4. Rollins, Indiana State, 23-5½; 5. Reeves, Southern Illinois, 23-4. 3000 Steeplechase—1. Cotter, Wichita State, 9:00.74; 2. Betz, Indiana State, 9:04.60; 3. Cherry, Southern Illinois, 9:06.94; 4. Wrage, Southern Illinois, 9:14.31; 5. Coffey, Bradley, 9:18.12.
Decathlon—1.Gooris, Northern Iowa, 7608; 2. Griffith, Wichita State, 7087; 3. Hickey, Wichita State, 7031; 4. Boese, Wichita State, 6808; 5. Freshour, Wichita State, 6736.