Former area track and field standouts Nikki Swenson of Dawson-Boyd and Natalie Devine of Litchfield have had stellar indoor track seasons with the Minnesota Gophers and helped the team capture a third straight Big Ten title this past weekend.
Swenson, who won nine state titles in track and cross country for Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd, anchored the distance medley relay that placed second in a time of 11:25.13 at the Big Ten Championships at the Gladstein Fieldhouse in Bloomington, Ind.
The sophomore also was third in the 800 run in a time of 2:08.91. Her 800 time is the fourth-best posted by a Gopher runner this season.
Devine, a redshirt sophomore, is coming off an injury in which she slipped on the ice in late January and dislocated her coccyx (tailbone). Still, she finished 10th in the Big Ten meet in the high jump with a leap of 5-71/4.
Both have put their names in the indoor record books this winter.
Swenson's 2:08.91 time in the 800 at the Big Ten meet is sixth best all-time in indoor history at the 'U'. And her 4:44.88 time in the mile at the Iowa State Classic on Feb. 14 is seventh all-time. Swenson also was part of a winning 4x400 relay team in 4:04.73 at the Minnesota Open on Jan. 17.
"I definitely feel more mature and a lot stronger this year," said Swenson, by telephone on Wednesday. "As the season progresses, we're doing more high-intensity, lower-volume training where we work on speed. My times are coming down now."
Swenson never regretted her decision to try life in the big city.
"I wanted to be a little fish in a big pond," she said. "Sometimes it was frustrating not winning or not doing well. But I've loved every minute of it. I knew it would be a big challenge and that it would give me a chance to find out more about myself. I'm learning from the best. You really have to work hard and fight every step of the way."
Swenson said there was a meet where she "fell asleep for 100 meters or so" and slowly saw the pack pull away.
"I maybe could have done that in high school and got by with it," she laughed. "But not here. You lose focus for even a little bit and they pass you by. I had to work hard over the next 50 meters to regain what I'd lost."
Swenson, who also competes in cross country, is majoring in Kinesiology.
Devine won the 2006 state high jump title and finished second in the triple jump and 100 meter hurldes.
She jumped a personal-best 5-81/2 at the Jack Johnson Classic at the University of Minnesota to win the event. That is the fourth-highest indoor jump in 'U' women's history. She also placed first in the Northwest Open on Jan. 10 with a 5-73/4 leap and was third in the Nebraska Open on Jan. 16 with a 5-7.
Then she sustained her injury and been slowly regaining her form and learning to jump with pain.
"It still hurts, but you can't use that as an excuse," said Devine on Wednesday by telephone. "I didn't miss any meets or anything. My doctor said it takes a while to heal. It's one of those injuries you can compete with but you try to block out the pain."
In her first meet back, she went 5-5 and placed 11th at the Meyo Invite at Notre Dame (South Bend, Ind.) on Feb. 6, then was eighth at the Iowa State Classic on Feb. 13 with a 5-71/4 before winning the Parents' Day Open at the 'U' in 5-7 on Feb. 21.
Devine's best outdoor jump was 5-91/4 last spring (third all-time at the 'U'), topping her best high-school leap of 5-81/4.
"I'd like to jump my height someday," said the 5-foot-10 Devine, who is majoring in adversing. "Then I'll just take it one step at a time."
Both Swenson and Devine are taking it one step at a time. And so far, they are taking giant steps.