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Jeff Kolpack, Published June 09 2010

Zander combines with Carlson to give NDSU a dangerous 1-2 punch at NCAAs

The University of Nebraska qualified two athletes for the heptathlon field of 24 in this week’s NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Name the only other school to qualify two?

Junior Whitney Carlson and senior Heather Zander will represent North Dakota State on the sport’s biggest college stage, which begins today at the University of Oregon. Carlson also qualified in the long jump and freshman Toni Tollefson from Lake Park, Minn., did so in the high jump.

For Zander, it’s the end of a varsity prep and collegiate athletic career that has spanned almost a decade. Not only is it rare to have two athletes from what is considered a mid-major Division I school qualify in one event, but both are from the state of North Dakota.

“I think that is so awesome, with the tradition we have at North Dakota State,” Zander said. “It’s North Dakota kids competing at Division I and that is so amazing. It’s so great how we competed against each other in high school and now we’re teammates and now we’re going big time to nationals.”

Zander, from Mandan, has perhaps not had the notoriety of Carlson, from Buchanan who was a standout at Carrington High School. That doesn’t matter, Zander said.

“It’s been really nice because I haven’t had a teammate push me as much as Whitney does,” she said. “When it comes to point totals, we’re always behind each other. It doesn’t matter if it goes either way.”

It starts today at 3 p.m. (CST) with the 100 hurdles, high jump, shot put and 200 meters. The second day on Thursday consists of the long jump, javelin and 800-meter run. That’s seven events that Carlson and Zander have to be at their best.

It wasn’t always that way for Zander, who couldn’t get past 4 feet, 10 inches in the high jump when she first got to NDSU. She’s consistently at 5-2 now.

Her javelin distances have also increased from around 85 to 90 feet to around 110 to 115.

“Definitely technique,” she said. “And it’s physical, too. I feel like I’m in better shape being my fifth year, but they are very technical events.”

Bison assistant Stevie Keller, who works with the multi-event athletes, said he remembers sitting down with Zander in her freshman year and presenting the heptathlon idea to her. He told her she could potentially be a national qualifier before she graduates.

“She took it in stride and progressed every year,” Keller said. “We explained to her about patience and she’s come a long ways.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack at (701) 241-5546