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Swenson heading to nationals

Minnesota Gopher Nikki Swenson of Dawson finished 12th in the 1,500-meter run at the NCAA West Regionals last weekend in Austin, Texas, earning a berth in the national tournament. Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota athletic department1 / 2
Natalie Devine of Litchfield cleared a personal-best 5-foot-81/2 in the high jump, narrowly missing a trip to nationals next weekend in Eugene, Ore. Photo courtesy University of Minnesota athletic department2 / 2

Nikki Swenson had a simple recipe for earning a berth in the NCAA Track and Field Championships. Running in the 1,500 meters in the NCAA West preliminary round this past weekend in Austin, Texas, Swenson knew she would have a good shot of gaining her second straight trip to the nationals if she stuck close by her Minnesota Gopher teammate.

"I just tried to stay close to Gabriele (Anderson). I knew she had a good chance to make it to nationals," said Swenson, a Dawson native, by telephone Friday afternoon. "She's ranked in the top five in the 1,500. She's been my training partner for three years now so I know her well."

Swenson, a junior, figured any advice she could get from Anderson would also be advantageous. After all, Anderson is in her sixth year with the Gophers after redshirting her first year and receiving a medical redshirt last year after being diagnosed with cancer.

"I figure any strategy she gives me will help," said Swenson. "She told me just to stay in the pack and anything can happen."

Her strategy proved to be prophetic. Swenson stayed in the thick of the lead pack for most of the race and finished 12th, the last qualifying spot, in a personal-best time of 4:20.89. She qualified with an at-large bid for the nationals last year as a sophomore in the 800-meter run.

"The pack was really tight," said Swenson. 'There were a lot of elbows being thrown. I had someone clip the back of my shoe and they fell down."

Swenson, Anderson, plus 10,000-meter runner Megan Duwell and discus thrower Nikki Tzanakis will all compete in the NCAA Championships June 9-12 in Eugene Ore.

"I don't see why I can't make it to the finals," said Swenson, who the Tribune's Hengstler-Ranweiler Award winner in 2007 for outstanding area high school athlete.

Swenson won five state titles in track and cross country for Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd. She also finished second five times and third twice.

Since her recipe for getting to the nationals turned out to be a success, she has a new goal for the nationals.

"I'd really like to make All-American," she said. "I know it's not going to be easy, but I just need to run relaxed and, with around 350 meters or so left, not be afraid to take a risk. I'm not going to do anything special. Special isn't what got me here."

Natalie Devine, a redshirt junior from Litchfield, narrowly missed qualifying for the NCAA Championships in the high jump.

Devine jumped a personal-best 5-foot-8½, but needed a leap of 5-10 to earn a berth.