DeKALB – Not every Northern Illinois athlete is done for the season.
While the rest of the Huskies teams’ campaigns have long since finished, NIU senior distance runner Hope Schmelzle will be the final athlete to participate in an event for the 2016-17 season when she heads to the NCAA Women’s Track and Field National Championships on Thursday at legendary Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.
“It’s kind of cool to be the last one,” said Schmelzle, who will compete in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. “It’s the last chance for NIU to show something for the 2017 season – kind of end on a good note so we can go into next season on a positive note. It’s fun. I’m able to focus, and I still feel the support of my teammates carrying through – maybe not physically at practice, but we’re in contact, so it feels like the season is still going.”
Schmelzle became the first Huskie to qualify for the NCAA Championships in the steeplechase after placing second in her heat at the NCAA West Regionals in Austin, Texas, on May 26 with a time of 10:04.37, behind regional champ Boise State freshman Allie Ostrander (10:00.02).
Utah junior Grayson Murphy won Schmelzle’s heat, narrowly edging her with a time of 10:04.35.
Schmelzle comes into the 24-runner field with the 12th best regional time. The preliminary round will be Thursday, with a pair of 12-runner heats. The top five finishers from each heat and then the next two fastest times will advance for the finals on Saturday.
“It’s just so hard to make the NCAA Championships in track and field,” said NIU distance coach Adrian Myers. “You talk about something so pure. You have to be among the top 24 fastest, biggest jumpers, biggest throwers in the country, and that’s hard to do. You’re running against Olympians, potential Olympians and the best of the best. ... She’s one of the best in the country, period.”
Schmelzle has had plenty of success since coming to NIU from Purdue in January 2016. She’s the school record holder in the steeplechase and the 1,500 run. Myers said she became the first Huskie to win an event at the Drake Relays by taking first in the 3,000 steeplechase. Myers said that her natural athleticism has allowed her to excel in the steeplechase, which requires hurdling a barrier several times throughout the race.
Although Schmelzle had to be talked into trying the event, it was a decision that has landed her on the biggest stage in the sport.
“I love the steeplechase because I think it takes an athlete to run the steeple,” said Schmelzle, who went to Wheaton Warrenville South. “All through high school I played basketball and soccer, and I always felt like I was an athlete. Coming into college, my high school coach suggested steeple, and I was like, ‘Jumping barriers for two miles? No thanks.’ My college coach said, ‘I think you might be good at this.’ I tried it out and fell in love with it the first time I did it.”