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Kevin Schnepf, Published June 11 2011

Schnepf: Carlson's impressive track career comes to an end

FARGO - It was nearly a decade ago when a nervous Whitney Carlson began her ascent up the track and field ladder.

Sarah Klein remembers the 2002 North Dakota state high school track and field meet as if it were yesterday. After all, all eyes were on Klein on this Saturday afternoon in Grand Forks – having just finished her high school career with 12 individual championships while leading Carrington to its fourth straight Class B state title.

Carlson, meanwhile, was the Carrington eighth-grader who quietly won two state titles that day. Little did track fans at the University of North Dakota’s Memorial Stadium realize that Carlson would eventually become an even bigger star than Klein – now married and known as Sarah Danielson.

“I just remember there were a lot of nerves flying around,” Danielson said, referring to Carlson. “But she was also fearless. She basically saw what records were out there and went after them.”

Let’s just say that Carlson has become one of the best athletes to ever come out of North Dakota. Her amazing career came to an end Friday appropriately at one of the most renowned track and field facilities in the world – Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa.

That’s where Carlson, in her final performance for North Dakota State, placed fifth in the heptathlon at the NCAA Division I Championships. The day before, she placed ninth in the long jump.

Let’s not underestimate these accomplishments.

While NDSU’s men’s basketball, women’s volleyball and women’s softball teams have grabbed the headlines with their NCAA tournament appearances, Carlson’s NCAA achievements are perhaps even more impressive.

Carlson – the Buchanan, N.D., farm girl who trained on gravel roads – is now among the best all-around track athletes in the entire country.

“It’s incredibly impressive,” said Danielson, who now lives in Seattle attending med school. “I’m just so happy for her because she deserves all the accolades that have come her way.”

The accolades seem endless:

E 19 state high school titles – a record that stood until Fargo South’s Laura Roesler recorded her 20th individual state title in 2010.

E The Class B state record in the 200 meters and the overall records in the two hurdle events and the long jump.

E At NDSU, she holds four outdoor records and was named the most valuable performer of The Summit League Outdoor Championships – not once – but three times.

Carlson has come a long ways from that 2002 state meet where she wasn’t quite sure if she could help Danielson and her teammates win the 1,600 relay. They won, setting a Class B record.

“There was added pressure, but even then, we had a lot of confidence in her,” Danielson said.

Carlson now prepares for dental school at the University of Nebraska – where she was going to run before changing her mind for NDSU.

“I’m really happy that she came to NDSU … it was a wonderful fit for her,” said Danielson, who herself first ran college track at Iowa State before transferring to NDSU. “She has just been such a wonderful representative for the school in athletic ability and in character.”

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or at kschnepf@forumcomm.com