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Jeff Kolpack, Published March 15 2010

Kolpack: NDSU has found small-town track gems

For those of you who think you need the best facilities for your little genius, take note: Because her town did not have a running track, former North Dakota State track star Kinsey Coles practiced on the sidewalks of Hillsboro, N.D.

And all she did was become a Bison All-American and one of the program’s all-time best. In the few years since, the NDSU women’s team has not forgotten about the small-town kids.

A collection of them led the Bison to another Summit League indoor championship last month at the Bison Sports Arena. On Wednesday, highly regarded distance runner Maddie McClellan from Perham, Minn., signed a letter of intent.

“I like that NDSU isn’t too huge, but it’s big enough where I feel like there are a variety of people there,” McClellan said. “It felt like the best fit for me.”

She’s not alone on the NDSU team, which includes middle distance runner and 2009 Division I national qualifier Brittany Gigstead from Perham, which despite its size runs a big-school program.

NDSU’s small-town poster child is Whitney Carlson from a farm north of Windsor, N.D., population about the same as the Bison team. She’s the best track athlete in The Summit and it’s not even close.

Two years ago, NDSU’s Toni Tollefson and Ashley Tingelstad represented Lake Park-Audubon High School in the Minnesota Class A outdoor state meet. Just two kids – and LP-A finished second as a team in a state that has a lot of teams.

If Minnesota had North Dakota prep rules (you can’t do more than three running events in the Minnesota state meet), the Raiders’ two kids may have won their school a state championship.

In many instances, smaller communities do not have specialized track and field coaches mainly because of size and budget. It’s often a basketball or volleyball coach who doubles up or a local citizen who pretty much volunteers their time.

So when these kids do get to NDSU, the Bison have talent that needs fine-tuning. For instance, NDSU head coach Ryun Godfrey first saw middle distance runner Christine Bruins from Watford City, N.D., in the Class B state basketball tournament.

A week later, she was running in a track meet and like Coles, it’s not as if she grew up near a track. She’s from a farm near Arnegard, N.D., population about the same as the Bison team.

“For her in the first couple of years, the Division I world was an ocean,” Godfrey said. “Now she’s finding her stride.”

She won the 800 at The Summit and is ranked 48th in the country. Next year, McClellan gets to put her big toe in the ocean and NDSU has proven that never bet against a small-town girl.

“I know I’ll be pushed there to improve and get better,” McClellan said. “I know it will be challenging.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Jeff Kolpack at (701) 241-5546 or jkolpack@forumcomm.com