The dream for any athlete is to compete against the highest level of competition.
For college track and field athletes, the dream is to get selected for the NCAA Championships. That is exactly what junior Bailey Hertenstein accomplished when she was selected by the NCAA Division I Men's and Women's Track and Field and Cross Country Committee to compete in the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.
On March 11, Hertenstein represented Indiana women’s track and field as the lone Hoosier traveling to Birmingham, Alabama, to compete in the NCAA Indoor Championships.
At first she thought it was a joke. Hertenstein needed four athletes to be scratched from the competition to even get into the Championships.
“At first I thought Coach was pulling my leg,'' Hertenstein said. “I thought he was just making assumptions of who he thought was going to scratch.”
But then Hertenstein got confirmation from head coach Ron Helmer during practice that she was in.
“The fact that I did get in, and this was my first ever national meet for track, just felt very, very grateful to be able to be a part of an experience like this,” Hertenstein said.
Hertenstein punched her ticket to qualify for the NCAA Championships when she broke a program record and set a personal best at the Windy City Invite on Feb. 12 with a time of 4:35.22. This mile run ultimately qualified her as a 16 seed in the NCAA Championships. She was the last athlete to qualify for the event.
In her track and field NCAA championship debut, Hertenstein competed in heat two of the mile run and finished in eighth place with a time of 4:43.48. She finished in 16th place overall.
“All of a sudden I got a hint of doubt in my mind and I think that’s what started to set the tone for the rest of the race,” Hertenstein said.
Although Hertenstein had some doubt in herself during her race that didn’t result in the placement she may have wanted, she is proud to be a woman pushing the limits in sports.
“I feel like despite what the result may have been, I feel incredibly inspired and empowered by all the women who are doing incredible things,” Hertenstein said. “I’m grateful to be a part of it and grateful to have the experience.”
Helmer said he was incredibly proud of Hertenstein for being one of the top 16 in the country and qualifying for the NCAA Championships.
“That’s really difficult to do and it’s just an incredible thing to put yourself into this environment,” Helmer said. “Certainly proud of the fact that she’s here, she’s qualified, but we want to get her to the next level so that she can do something really special.”
Hertenstein and the rest of the Hoosiers now look toward their outdoor season to where they hope to improve and accomplish more as a team.
“It was not a particularly good showing at the Big Ten Championships or the number of qualifiers we had to the national meet,'' Helmer said. “We’ve got work to do, but the pieces are there.”
Indiana track and field will begin its outdoor season in Raleigh, North Carolina, at the Raleigh Relays on March 25-27.