Josh Freeman and Zach Siegmeier have proved they know about good timing as they prepare for the NCAA West Region track and field meet.
For Freeman, a Cary-Grove graduate, his best performance came on his final throw of last weekend’s Missouri Valley Conference outdoor track and field meet. The sophomore at Southern Illinois University delivered a meet- and school-record shot put toss of 65 feet, 2 inches on his sixth throw of the meet.
“There’s something about that last throw and that final opportunity,” said Freeman, a sophomore who repeated as MVC outdoor shot put champ while also finishing second in the discus by a mere 2 inches. “In order to win, I knew I had to have a big throw.”
The final act of Siegmeier’s career at Minnesota has included three Big Ten Conference pole vault titles in the past 12 months, including last weekend’s victory at Purdue in the outdoor championships with a facility-record vault of 17 feet, 10½ inches.
“A year ago, nobody knew who I was,” said Siegmeier, a Crystal Lake Central grad. “I went into this meet as the heavy favorite. That’s always what I wanted. That’s the level I wanted to get to.”
Freeman ranks fourth in the shot put and 38th in the discus among qualifiers for the regional meet in Fayetteville, Arkansas, which begins Thursday. The top 12 finishers at the regional meet advance to nationals June 11 to 14 in Eugene, Oregon.
Freeman is 5½ inches from a major goal in his shot put career, a throw of 20 meters.
Last weekend, he didn’t think his final throw would get him close at all.
“Out of my hand, I thought I had missed the throw entirely,” he said. “There was a 20-meter line out there and I saw it hit right in front of it. So, I started going nuts.”
In a video posted to Instagram, Freeman pounded his chest during an emotional celebration after the throw. The effort helped him beat Illinois State senior Curtis Jensen, who ranks second among West Region qualifiers at 66-8 ½.
”We’re competitors, but we’re also good friends,” Freeman said. “We talk about training and what we’re going to do post-college.”
The first step this summer toward post-college competition will be qualifying for the USA Track and Field nationals in late June in Sacramento, California. The top 18 competitors nationally are selected for each event. Freeman said the automatic qualifying distance is a throw of 20 meters.
Although he has not reached the milestone distance yet, his throw in the MVC meet was encouraging.
“Especially with still having regionals and nationals to come,” Freeman said.
Earlier in his career, Siegmeier battled injuries that kept him from a regular offseason training regimen.
“To continue to train throughout the year has really helped me improve,” said Siegmeier, a senior who cleared 18-1 this season. “It’s hard to compete at a high level when you can’t train.”
Siegmeier credited his support system at Minnesota with keeping his spirits high during times when he doubted himself.
“I knew I had potential,” he said. “It’s hard when it doesn’t happen when you think it should. I just tried to stay focused on what I wanted to accomplish. I’m grateful for my coaches and teammates. They always told me what I was capable of.”
Siegmeier ranks sixth among competitors at the West Regional and 10th nationally. He hopes to join Freeman at the USATF nationals next month as well and continue to compete beyond college.
While winning the Big Ten title last weekend, Siegmeier was unable to take part in graduation ceremonies in Minneapolis. He would like to use his kinesiology degree to train athletes and coach on the collegiate level.
“Vaulting has kept me from walking [in graduation] twice,” said Siegmeier, who also did not take part in his high school ceremony because of a competition. “But that’s OK. I was doing what I love.”
On Tuesday, Minnesota named Siegmeier the winner of its inaugural Garry Bjorklund Award as the program’s most valuable performer. Bjorklund won 10 Big Ten titles in his collegiate career with the Gophers and competed in the 1976 Olympics.
Before his career is over at Minnesota, Siegmeier hopes he can go even higher.
“The school record is 18-5,” he said. “I’ve had a couple of good attempts at it this season. It would be nice to be on top of that list.”
Ruolo at golf nationals: Prairie Ridge grad Danielle Ruolo placed 65th as an individual golfer this month while helping D-III Carthage College to a 10th-place team finish at the NCAA championships at El Campeon Golf Course at Howey in the Hills, Florida.
After a first-round score of 105, Ruolo bounced back with rounds of 89, 86 and 83 in the four-round event. Her 363 total was 65 strokes over par.
Carthage, playing in its first national tournament, advanced to the final round with 11 other teams. Ruolo was Carthage’s only freshman in the event. She finished the season with a scoring average of 84.3 and four top-10 tournament finishes.
Kaveney earns baseball honors: Ryan Kaveney, a sophomore pitcher for D-III Beloit College’s baseball team, earned all-region and all-conference honors this spring after posting a 1.84 ERA.
Kaveney, a Cary-Grove grad, went 3-3 for the Bucs (15-18) to earn first-team All-Midwest Conference North Division honors. His conference-leading 72 strikeouts this season ranked second for a single season in school history. His ERA ranked third in Beloit history.
Kaveney, who was named to the All-Central Region third team by D3Baseball.com, walked only 13 batters. In an April 19 game against St. Norbert, Kaveney tied the school record with 14 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings.
Zubrzycki leading man at Concordia: Marian Central grad Steve Zubrzycki moved into the leadoff spot in D-III Concordia Chicago’s baseball lineup this season and was an impressive spark for the Cougars’ offense.
The junior shortstop from McHenry batted .319 with a .430 on-base percentage. He led the team, which won its conference tournament and regular-season titles, with 38 stolen bases and 56 runs scored. For his efforts, Zubrzycki earned second-team recognition in voting of coaches for the All-Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference team.
The Cougars’ season ended in the NCAA regional for the second year in a row with a 39-7 record, which was identical to last season. In his three seasons at Concordia, Zubrzycki has helped the team to a 111-28 record. Over the past two seasons, Zubrzycki has started 87 of his team’s 88 games.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column and a blog about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com, check out his On Campus blog at McHenryCountySports.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryOnCampus.