Jeff Kolpack, Published March 06 2013
NDSU's Lillejord shines after choosing Division I over Division II
To those who coached him in high school in Jamestown, N.D., his national elite status is not a surprise. The two-time Summit League champion and NDSU school-record holder will be one of 16 entrants in the heptathlon at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships at the University of Arkansas.
“I always knew he had the potential to do well in college, not only because he’s talented, but you knew he would develop himself to be better,” said Deb Hornung, who coached Lillejord in the pole vault at Jamestown. “And the fact he went to a place that nourished that, and he’s with other athletes that share that same passion. You just knew he would raise it to a new level.”
He’s raised it to new levels and then some. Lillejord is ranked 10th heading into the two-day heptathlon, which begins Friday. It’s a standing that two years ago he figured was too far out of reach.
Moreover, he was contemplating playing football at the Division II level while also considering his track and field options. That kind of recruiting competition is nothing new for Bison assistant coach Stevie Keller, a veteran of the multi-event.
NDSU has made a lucrative living over the years at the seven-event heptathlon and the 10-event outdoor decathlon with all-around prep athletes. Keller said the Division I tag helped sell Lillejord on NDSU.
“I was really hoping he decided not to play football, because that is usually what happens. You lose those multi-event kids because they’re good at other sports,” Keller said. “We lucked out with him in getting him to come here to school for track and field.”
The foundation was already there before he got to NDSU, where older multi-athletes like Weston Leutz and Ted Rud helped push him. Hornung remembers a kid who was always competitive, very disciplined and not afraid to work. He was often the last kid to leave practice.
Lillejord went to Keller’s pole vault camps in the summer. He watched videos and studied the event, Hornung said.
“Even in the summers, how many kids design their own lifting plan? Their own workout plan?” she said. “Then he would bring other kids into the fold with him.”
He won’t be the only Jamestown athlete in the D-I nationals. Hornung’s niece, Katie Conlin, is running for the University of Oregon and qualified in the 5,000-meter run. Her Ducks teammate, Fargo South’s Laura Roesler, qualified in the 800, the 1,600 relay and the distance medley relay.
Lillejord’s goal is a top-eight finish, which would make him an All-American. That would make five under Keller’s guidance in the Division I era.
“We’ve been lucky, you always think, who will be the next one?” Keller said. “Who can we recruit now? There always seems to be somebody that fills that spot, and I think it starts with the tradition of having good upperclassmen.”
Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.
Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found