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NDSU’s 1,600-meter relay team of, from left, Paige Stratioti, Morgan Milbrath, Antoinette Goodman and Ashley Tingelstad, will be competing in the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships this week in Eugene, Oregon. Carrie Snyder Forum News Service

NDSU keeps finding diamonds in the rough

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The road to Hayward Field at the University of Oregon started in a variety of ways for the five North Dakota State runners who qualified for this week’s NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships. For instance, each member of the 1,600-meter relay team has their own unique story.

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Take the anchor of the group, Ashley Tingelstad, who didn’t have a track to practice on until her senior year in high school. At Lake Park-Audubon High School, the kids ran in hallways or around the school on a makeshift course a coach measured to 400 meters.

“It’s a lot different when you don’t have a track,” she said.

Tingelstad isn’t the only standout Bison runner who came to NDSU with limited resources. Former sprinter Whitney Carlson ran on a gravel road by her farm near Buchanan, N.D., and had to drive about 30 miles one way to Carrington to practice, former middle distance ace Kinsey Coles didn’t have a track in Hillsboro, N.D., and distance runner Christine (Bruins) Schmaltz came from bare bones facilities in Watford City, N.D.

Somehow, some way, NDSU head coach Ryun Godfrey continues to find diamonds on the prairie.

“So we have to keep hoping we can pick some of these kids out and keep them here,” he said.

The four he kept in the Upper Midwest — who are running the 1,600-meter relay this week in the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships — have made their mark, and then some, in history. Paige Stratioti, Morgan Milbrath, Antoinette Goodman and Tingelstad have broken the school record so many times that they’ve lost count.

“I can’t even keep track,” Goodman said. “I have no idea, but I think it’s great we keep improving each meet.”

If the four ran for the University of Minnesota, they would have the Gopher school record by two seconds. Their best currently stands at 3 minutes, 32.85 seconds, set in the NCAA West Preliminary May 30 in Fayetteville, Ark.

“I knew we were ready to be competitive,” Stratioti said, “but when we ran 3:32, we all just stared at the scoreboard. Is this right? Did we just do that?”

In one span of 21 days, NDSU broke the school record three times. There was a time in 2002 when NDSU was an NCAA Division II runner-up that included a 1,600 relay team of Coles, Jill Theeler, Rachel Kraft and Tamara Brudy that ran a 3:38 – at the time a smashing record.

“To think this team could blow that team out of the water,” Godfrey said. “Those alumni have contacted me now and say this is unbelievable because they appreciate how fast a 3:32 is.”

Is there any more gas in the tank? Godfrey figures they’ll need to set another PR to get through the NCAA prelims with the top eight reaching the finals.

“This year has shown us we can hang with the big dogs and we can beat some of them, too,” Tingelstad said. “I’m confident we can get to the top eight and make the finals.”

That confidence comes thanks to a select group of athletes from smaller communities who helped NDSU through the Division I transition, Tingelstad said, like Carlson, Schmaltz, middle distance runner Laura Hermanson and pole vaulter Leslie Brost.

Hermanson has the top Bison finish in the Division I Outdoor Championships with a second place finish in the 800 meters in 2009.

“They kind of paved the way for us,” Tingelstad said. “Just because you’re from a small school doesn’t mean you can’t do big things. We’re not intimidated.”

There was a time that wasn’t the case, Godfrey said, where Tingelstad would have balked at being fourth in line in the relay. The pressure was too much.

“Now it’s like, ‘Put me at anchor, I’m ready,’” Godfrey said. “That’s pretty fun to see that veteran quality come about.”

She was a varsity runner at Lake Park-Audubon until moving to East Grand Forks for her senior year. She set the Minnesota state record in the 400 in 2008 and left each school with numerous records.

Last week, the thought of her last meet as a prep or collegiate runner left her with mixed emotions.

“It’s kind of sad,” she said. “I guess it’s bittersweet. Getting to nationals is something that we all strived for and the fact we made it my senior year is kind of the perfect ending.”

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Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at www.bisonmedia.areavoices.com. On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.
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