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COLLEGE TRACK: One last time

One would have a hard time thinking of a better scenario for an NCAA Division II-ending school. No UND athlete has ever won a women's NCAA Division II outdoor championship. No UND athlete has won a men's Division II outdoor championship since 198...

One would have a hard time thinking of a better scenario for an NCAA Division II-ending school.

No UND athlete has ever won a women's NCAA Division II outdoor championship. No UND athlete has won a men's Division II outdoor championship since 1989.

But on this, the final year of Division II competition before the Sioux program moves up to Division I next fall, UND has a chance to bring home two titles from one national meet.

What brings UND's final Division II competition closer to home is that all three athletes with a chance of winning titles are from the region. There's Matt Fick from Grand Forks Red River and Matt Litzinger from Grand Forks Central. There's Heidi Evans from Roseau, Minn.

Fick is seeded first in the javelin and Litzinger second in the same event. Evans is seeded first in the 1,500 meters.

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"We've had a lot of local kids who have stayed home and done very well for us," Sioux men's track coach Mike Grandall said. "I know they've added to our program and hopefully we've been able to help them in their success."

Litzinger, Fick and Evans, along with junior pole vaulter Jessica Clausnitzer, will be the last four athletes to represent UND in Division II. Finality will be everywhere for the Sioux during the meet, which runs Thursday through Saturday in Walnut, Calif. Fick, Litzinger and Evans are seniors.

They will try to become the become the first athletes from UND since Norm McGee won the 100 meters in 1989 to bring home a national outdoor track and field title.

And, with UND stepping up to higher competition, it might be many years before the school has a similar chance to win a national individual title.

Close competitors

Fick is excited about being in the mix of the top throwers in the country.

"I can't think of a better way to go out," he said.

Fick and Litzinger have thrown alongside each other since 2001, when Fick was a freshman at Red River and Litzinger was a sophomore at Central. So the two are as close off the field as they are on the javelin runway. Fick has the top throw in the country at 229 feet, 10 inches. Litzinger is right back at 228-1. The next-best throw in the country is a 219-9 by Nicholas Bawden of Humboldt State.

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Litzinger and Fick go back and forth in competition. Litzinger placed sixth and Fick eighth in the javelin in 2007.

In high school, both won state titles as seniors. Only one can win a national title as a college senior.

"They've been dedicated to it all these years," Grandall said of Fick and Litzinger. "Each year, it seems like they add a little distance on. It's something they've worked hard at."

Litzinger didn't plan to compete in the javelin at UND. He was concerned about some elbow troubles he had in high school and didn't know if his body would hold up.

But he got stronger, matured, and, at the urging of his parents, returned to the sport in 2005 after one year off.

"I'd say it's probably one of the best decisions I've ever made, athletically, anyway," Litzinger said.

Fick said he and Litzinger have become good friends since they graduated from their respective high schools. "We weren't quite as good of buddies in high school," he said.

"It's really helped having him on the team," Fick said. "I think it's helped him as well having me on the team, being able to push each other."

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Litzinger says when he or Fick has a big throw, the other often responds with a big throw of their own.

Grandall says the athletes he refers to as "Fick and Litz" work well together, though they both obviously want to win.

"It's kind of a fine line you walk, but I think we do it pretty good," Fick said.

Evans goes for

first outdoor title

Evans will be familiar with her surroundings in California. She competed in a meet on the same track this spring during the Mt. SAC Relays.

It was a good meet, as she set her personal record in the 1,500 in 4:24.66.

"Hopefully, I didn't peak too early," she said.

Sioux women's track coach Dick Clay says Evans will have to run well to compete for the title. Evans cut off about five seconds from her qualifying time in the 1,500 at last year's nationals, and Clay expects others to do the same this year.

Evans finished fourth in 4:25.89 in 2007.

Clay said the No. 1 seed doesn't mean much entering the meet.

"Just because you're ranked No. 1, you can't assume that you're going to win," he said. "In fact, you have to assume that people are coming after you."

Still, Clay said it's nice to have an athlete with a chance to win a title. He recalls two other Sioux athletes, Becky Leppard and Steph Bruening, who faced some of best competition in Division II history when they went to nationals.

Leppard often placed second behind a 30-year-old from Finland who was competing for Kennesaw State. Bruening had to face two future Division II track hall of famers.

"They just happened to be there when there were really quality people," Clay said.

Evans knows she will face stiff competition, too.

"To go out on a high note for our university would be really something special," she said.

Fee is sports editor of the Herald. Reach him at (701) 780-1127; (800) 477-6572, ext. 127; or send e-mail to kfee@gfherald.com .

UND's last shot at titles

Sioux No. 1 seeds: Heidi Evans, 1,500 women; Matt Fick, javelin.

Sioux other top hope: Matt Litzinger, javelin.

What: NCAA Division II track and field meet.

Where: Walnut, Calif.

When: Thursday-Saturday.

UND athletes with NCAA track titles

Men: Arjan Gelling, 1969, six mile outdoor; Norm McGee, three 100-meter outdoor titles in 1987, 1988 and 1989 and two 55-meter indoor titles in 1987 and 1988; Dave Levos, outdoor discus in 1986 and indoor shot put in 1985.

Women: Marie Crep, 1994, 800 meters indoor.

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