GRAND FORKS, N.D. – The 2016-17 has been a historic one for UND Athletics, with four regular-season conference championships, two more playoff titles and first-time Big Sky Tournament berths for softball and women's tennis. And if UND track and field head coach Kevin Galbraith has his way, more history will be written for the school this weekend in Austin, Texas.
That's where three of Galbraith's Fighting Hawks are currently preparing for the NCAA Division I Track & Field Outdoor West Preliminary, which run Thursday through Saturday at the University of Texas.
Junior thrower Molli Detloff will compete in both the discus and hammer and is ranked among the top 20 in both. Teammates Katelyn Weber (shot put) and Kyley Foster (pole vault) will also compete, with all three eyeing the top-12 finish that would advance them to the NCAA Championships June 7-10 in Eugene, Ore.
Since transitioning to the Division I level in 2008-09, the track and field program at UND has made steady, incremental progress: first conference athlete of the week. First all-conference. First conference champion. First Big Sky Athlete of the Meet.
Now, Galbraith eyes the opportunity to advance a student-athlete out of the NCAA preliminary round for the first time.
“We're real close. You still have to do it on that day, but we're real close,” said Galbraith. “It's been a really great year and we've had a lot of special performances.
“Having the High Performance Center has been a great help. We're further down the track – pun intended – than we've ever been. That's because we can train all winter long the way we need to, rather than the way we're forced to by the weather.”
Event: Discus (Friday, May 26 at 12 pm CT)
West Ranking: 18th (178 feet, 3 inches | 54.33 meters)
Event: Hammer (Thursday, May 25 at 11 am CT)
West Ranking: 15th (202 feet, 6 inches | 61.72 meters)
Detloff was named the Big Sky Conference Athlete of the Meet at the conference's outdoor championship earlier this month and has a realistic chance to advance in both of her events.
“I'd love that opportunity for the program and for her,” said UND throws coach Drew Jones. “That would be huge for our track program to get a Division I All-American and start building on that every year.”
Detloff has twice broken the school record in the hammer throw this season, in the process becoming the first UND athlete – male or female – to clear 200 feet in the event. She also won the Big Sky championship in the discus.
That Detloff has come this far as a junior is a pleasant surprise to both Jones and Galbraith.
“This is somebody who we thought, when Drew was recruiting her, could be pretty good. We didn't know she was going to be really good,” said Galbraith.
Detloff, a native of Elk River, Minn., was identified by the UND coaching staff as an athletic-but-raw talent. How athletic? She was a thrower who was also a state finalist in the 100-meter dash.
“She didn't practice or train with the sprinters or anything like that. She was just faster than everyone,” said Jones. “So I knew there was a bigger engine in there. We knew that she had some more power and that hopefully we could find a way to harness that. But we had no idea that it would be of this level.”
Detloff gained regionals experience as a freshman and Jones is confident the stage will not affect her in the quest to advance.
“It's just a matter of whether the people above her are on,” said Jones. “People can struggle with the mental game and she won't necessarily be one of those people.”
Event: Pole Vault (Thursday, May 25 at 11 am CT)
West Ranking: 44th (13 feet, 3.75 inches | 4.06 meters)
Like Detloff, Foster's ascent has also been accelerated. A former walk-on, the sophomore out of Detroit Lakes, Minn., has already established herself among the elite in the Big Sky Conference.
Foster broke her own record on April 13 at Long Beach State with a leap of 13 feet, 3.75 inches (4.06 meters) and has earned a trip to the podium in each of her first two Big Sky Indoor Championships.
She will be UND's first pole vaulter ever to compete at the Division I regional.
“We certainly didn't expect her to take off as quickly as she did,” said UND assistant coach Joe Silvers.
Silvers says Foster's personality will serve her well in her regional debut.
“With her I don't worry about jitters,” said Silvers. “She's one of those people who does better when she's competing against individuals in the field who have a higher mark. She's a gamer. She always wants to get better at things. She's never happy with the status quo.”
Silvers views this weekend's as a building block for Foster's next two years at UND.
“They start the bar rather high at the regional meet. If she makes the bar, I'm happy. If she doesn't, I'm still happy because this isn't something we expected out of her sophomore year,” said Silvers. “For where she started and where we're at now, making the first round of the national meet is awesome.”
Event: Shot Put (Saturday, May 27 at 6 pm CT)
West Ranking: 46th (49 feet, 4.5 inches | 15.05 meters)
Weber is also making her NCAA regional debut, but is certainly not short on big-meet performances. The St. Clair, Minn., native was the runner-up in the shot put at the Big Sky Conference Outdoor Championship and won the event at the indoor championship with a school-record performance.
She qualified for this weekend's competition with a school-record throw at the NDSU Tune-Up on May, but Jones feels something may have been left on the table at the conference meet and that just might fuel Weber in Austin.
“I think we missed on an opportunity to throw 50 feet at the Big Sky meet,” said Jones. “But she's ready to throw 50 feet. I'd love to see her go out there and break that school record again.
Like Silvers with Foster, Jones expects Weber to not only put her best foot forward, but to use the experience as a returning letterwinner next season.
“I want her to enjoy her time [at regionals], enjoy that she's just a junior and can come back next year,” said Jones.