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Sioux leave on high note

WALNUT, Calif. -- It was a fitting swan song for UND athletics. The Sioux will be moving up to Division I in the fall, and three members of the school's track and field team had the honor of participating in the school's final event at the NCAA D...

WALNUT, Calif. -- It was a fitting swan song for UND athletics.

The Sioux will be moving up to Division I in the fall, and three members of the school's track and field team had the honor of participating in the school's final event at the NCAA Division II level.

And the trio of Sioux seniors went out in style.

Matt Litzinger and Heidi Evans won national titles for the Sioux at the NCAA Track and Field Championships on Saturday at Mt. San Antonio College.

Litzinger captured the javelin, while Evans took the 1,500 meters.

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And UND's Matt Fick placed third in the javelin to round out the school's final competition as a Division II member.

Evans won the 1,500 in 4 minutes, 26.29 seconds. The Sioux senior from Roseau, Minn., gave the UND women's program its first outdoor champion.

UND's successful day, however, was bittersweet.

"It's always hard to leave something behind," UND men's coach Mike Grandall said. "We have been part of this for so long.

"Everything after this will be something new. It was a good way to go finish but there are mixed feelings."

For Litzinger and Fick, the meet also signified the end of a rivalry that dates back eight years. The two are Grand Forks natives and attended rival high schools Grand Forks Central and Grand Forks Red River. However, both waged a similar battle as teammates the last four years.

Grandall said the rivalry has brought out the best in both.

"They have developed a good, healthy, competitive relationship," Grandall said. "They have worked with each other; they love the sport and it has shown in how successful both of them have been."

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Fick had bragging rights for much of the season. He set the school record of 229 feet, 10 inches earlier this season, which also ranked him first in the country heading into the meet.

But Litzinger, who won the javelin with a throw of 222-7, was best when it counted. He was the first thrower in the first flight and unleashed a toss of 222-4 on his first try. That stood until he bettered it by three inches on the last toss of the final round.

"I hate throwing first," Litzinger said. "There are so many people coming after you that can beat you. You have to think that way.

"That's how you stay competitive. And if you go out and have a crappy throw, it sets a crappy tone."

Fick threw last in the second flight and recorded a 219-10 on his first effort that left him in second place.

The Sioux duo held the top two spots until Felipe Ortiz of Puerto Rico Mayaguez threw a 220-6 on his second try in the second flight.

Fick settled for a throw of 206 on his last try in the finals.

Ortiz then passed on his last try after straining a groin earlier in the finals. That secured the win for Litzinger, who decided to take one final throw.

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Litzinger pumped his fist in the air, then was embraced by Fick, who moments earlier was kicking the grass in frustration. It was the third trip to nationals for each, with Litzinger placing eighth and Fick sixth a year ago.

Fick took his third in stride.

"It was a little disappointing because I have thrown better," he said. "It really hasn't sunk in yet. Third is still pretty good. I think I'll appreciate it more later when I look back on it."

Evans watched her two teammates compete in the javelin earlier and felt a sense of relief in living up to expectations.

"I'm very relieved," she said. "Being ranked first all season adds a lot of pressure because you're expected to win. If you don't, it's a disappointment."

Evans led the entire race, and held off a late charge from Jessica Lamp of Wisconsin-Parkside. The significance of her feat sunk in after she accepted the first-place trophy from coach Dick Clay.

Not only is she UND's first champion but is likely to be the only one for awhile as Division I competition will become stronger.

"It does feel special to be the first but it also feels good to be able to do it for him (Clay) so he has a champion," Evans said, breaking into tears.

The Sioux took four athletes to the meet and all four scored points. Junior Jessica Clausnitzer placed eighth in the pole vault on Friday, clearing 11 feet, 10½ inches.

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