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Jeff Kolpack, Published February 26 2014

Bison women’s 1,600 relay team break school record just before Summit meet.

FARGO – This weekend is the last chance for Division I track and field teams across the country to qualify for the national indoor championships. And for 1,600-meter relay teams in major conferences like the Southeastern or Pac-12, they must be scratching their collective heads at the No. 9 team on the list.

North Dakota State.

“You have to wonder what Miami, South Carolina and Arkansas are saying,” said Bison head coach Ryun Godfrey. “I’m sure they’re like, ‘Who are these guys?’ ”

They are Morgan Milbrath, Ashley Tingelstad, Ashley Heinze and Paige Stratioti, a quartet that has not only beaten the school record three times in the last three weeks but has done so with authority. Their time of 3 minutes, 34.57 seconds is an improvement of an incredible 6.55 seconds over the school mark as it stood on Feb. 1.

“You always feel like you have potential,” Tingelstad said. “I thought we could be good, but I never thought it would be like this.”

The Bison as a team hope there’s more like that in the Summit League Indoor Championships on Friday and Saturday in Fort Wayne, Ind. The NDSU women have never lost a Summit conference meet, winning the indoor and outdoor every year since joining the league in 2008.

So far, there’s no reason to think that will change this weekend.

“Like most years though, you have to show up and get it done,” Godfrey said.

Tingelstad and Stratioti are proven middle-distance runners. Heinze was a specialist in the pentathlon and heptathlon until this year. The final piece was provided by the freshman Milbrath, who came to NDSU after a state-title decorated career in Minot, N.D.

“It’s usually unfair to put that kind of pressure on a freshman,” Godfrey said. “But she’s been able to handle it.”

“She’s a freshman, but she doesn’t act like a freshman,” Tingelstad said. “She has a senior mentality.”

The latest record came last Saturday at Notre Dame’s Alex Wilson Invitational. Texas Tech, ranked sixth, won the event with the Bison taking second. The top 12 times automatically qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships.

The NCAA won’t announce the field until Tuesday, but Godfrey said he should know by Sunday night when the conference performance lists are known.

The odds favor NDSU. Conference meets make it tougher on the 1,600-meter relay times because it’s the last event of the meet and kids generally get tired after two days of competing. NDSU entered the Notre Dame meet last weekend because it figured it had a chance to qualify for nationals.

It may prove to be the right call.

“I thought at the beginning of the year the record may be in jeopardy,” Godfrey said. “But 3:34 is a little beyond what I thought would happen.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia