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Attending a big-time track meet is always exciting, although the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference meet’s second and concluding day caught me off guard for what could be a new definition of a surprise ending.
Saturday started out as an expected day at the UMAC softball final, where St. Scholastica (as usual) was playing Northwestern, and even though the Saints would have to beat the Golden Eagles from Roseville twice, it was a worthy challenge that the Saints seemed capable of pulling off. They didn’t, because Northwestern was on an amazing roll of offense and defense and whipped the Saints uncermoniously.
That meant I had time to rush over to Malosky Stadium, where the UMAC track finals were well underway. I learned a valuable lesson, which is, if you want to come late to a track meet, do not come to watch the 5,000-meter run unless you see it from the start.
I blew that too-late advice, because as I was getting out of my vehicle the women’s 5000 was just starting. As I came around to the back entrance, a Wisconsin Superior runner seemed to be far ahead. So far ahead that I figured I’d better get into position to shoot a photo of how far back the second-place runner was.
The “leader” was Haraka Hammanaka, a UWS runner from Japan. Those Yellowjackets know how to recruit! I figured it was the 1,500-meter run, so there’d be a couple more laps, and I got a good shot of second-place Lauren Dynek from St. Scholastica, abouit 100 yards behind, but well ahead of a cluster of runners.
When they kept on running, for a fifth lap, I knew it was the longer distance — 5,000 meters. And Dynek was gaining, closing the gap on Hammanaka until the two ran together for two or three laps before Dynek got past her for the “lead.” Instead of ending, they had two more laps to go, and I was on the backstretch when they came around. Because I was unfamiliar with the runners, there seemed to be a mixup of some sort. A tall, slim runner wearing St. Scholastica colors had been noticeable back in the pack somewhere for her upright running style, but now as the runners came around on their next-to-last lap, she was out ahead of the two leaders. I figured the two leaders must have lapped her.
Now it was the final lap, and the two leaders came by still battling, while the slim Saints runner was nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t until after they had finished that I realized what had happened. Casey Hovland, from North Branch, was the tall runner who had appeared out of nowhere, and nowhere was what she must have seemed to the other competitors, because when I got there, she had run away into the lead by so much she had started lapping other runners, which led me to assume she was back in the pack.
Hammanaka was running alone, but in second, and Dynek caught up, but from third place to take second. I got a hundred photos of the great race between those two, but I completely missed the realization that Hovland — who had won the 1,500 the day before by 9 seconds — had lapped the entire field and finished in a meet record 18:07.84. She beat the impressive Dynek, who is from Duluth East, by an unimaginable 1:48.
She is visible approaching the two who I thought were front-runners in the accompanying photo, but she was coming on to lap both of them!
St. Scholastica won the event with 212 points, while UWS took second with 184. A key for the Saints was Sammi Argir, who won the 200-meter dash Friday, and who came back to win the 100 on Saturday, and also anchor both the 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams, with Anika Kling, Breanna Shofner, and Mel Avinor. The 4x100 effort was a meet record 49.20.
The UWS men reversed the order from the women, winning the UMAC men’s title with 289 points to 155 for Minnesota Morris and 94 for third-place St. Scholastica.
Northwestern stuns Saints to win UMAC
The transformation of the Northwestern women’s softball team and the annually dominant St. Scholastica Saints was remarkable. They played last Friday and Northwestern did two things amazingly well — they hit shots all over the field when batting, and they made countless diving, spectacular plays when on defense.
When they played the Saints, it seemed uncanny how every Northwestern ground ball went between fielders for hits, while every Saints corresponding grounder seemed to be just barely in reach where an Eagles defender could dive, snare it, and make a play. Northwestern won 10-1.
The tournament was double elimination, so by winning after that opener, the Saints came back to face Northwestern again in Saturday’s high noon final. If the Saints won, there would be another game. Northwestern won 7-3, and the Eagles are the new UMAC tournament champion.
Northwestern’s pitching strateg was interesting. Lexi Kopacek, a left-handed freshman from Willmar, pitched the first four innings, then Abbie Nelson pitched the final three in the 10-1 game Friday. In the 7-3 game Saturday, Mariah Maunu went the first four and Nelson the final three.
Northwestern led 4-1 in the top of the fourth, when Faith Forcier hammered a 3-run home run to make it 7-1. It was a tough weekend for junior Saints pitcher Maggie Schley, who worked as hard as usual but without her usual luck. Still, Schley was the Saints most effective hitter through the tournament. Vanessa Kohl, a senior pitcher from Duluth East, finished her college career with a 2-0 shutout against Bethany Lutheran in a game the Saints had to win to gain the final.
Northwestern’s reward is its first trip to the NCAA regional, where the Eagles will run into St. Thomas next. We, and all other UMAC rivals, wish them well.