Not that long ago, Natasha Schaffer was not considering herself as Big Ten Conference material.
“They’re such high caliber and amazing athletes,” the Prairie Ridge senior said. “It’s hard to picture yourself as one of them.”
Yet Schaffer had a breakout sophomore year that culminated with a seventh-place finish in the Class 3A triple jump at the IHSA Girls Track and Field State Meet. Debbie Schaffer mentioned to her daughter about her success, even before the state meet, and the possibility of becoming an NCAA Division I athlete.
“She always loved Big Ten schools,” Natasha said. The idea sort of started in the back of my mind, that that’s what I wanted. But I never really thought I was a Big Ten athlete.”
Eventually, that changed. Schaffer heard from Big Ten schools, as well as others, during the summer of 2016. The college interest intensified after her highly successful junior year in which she finished third in state in the triple jump.
Schaffer will indeed be a Big Ten athlete next year. She committed to Minnesota last week as a preferred walk-on.
“I never really told anyone I wanted to go Big Ten, but that became a driving force,” she said. “That’s what I wanted.”
Schaffer also could have been a preferred walk-on at Wisconsin, and she received scholarship offers from Loyola (Chicago) and Murray State. Her final two schools were Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“I love, love, love their coach (Matt Bingle),” said Schaffer, the 2017 Northwest Herald Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year. “I loved the business program. You are required to travel abroad.”
Bingle received the Big Ten Outdoor Coach of the Year award for 2016. Also, Minnesota has started construction on a building in which athletes can eat and study, which was impressive to Schaffer.
Over the summer, Schaffer worked on longer approaches for the long and triple jumps.
“I switched to a longer run, so I focused on making that more consistent,” Schaffer said. “I focused on my speed, because it was longer, I didn’t want to lose any power or speed. It was more just going to meets and trying to make the changes so this year I’ll hit those bigger marks because I’ll have that foundation of good speed and power.”