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CEDAR FALLS – Maddie McCalla has cleared mental hurdles, while Connor Ham has overcome the physical toll a string of injuries has placed on his body to find success in the hurdles.

Those University of Northern Iowa seniors captured their first event titles at the Missouri Valley Conference indoor track and field championships Sunday afternoon inside the UNI-Dome.

Ham won the 60-meter hurdles with a personal-record time of 7.93 for a UNI men’s team that placed second to Illinois State, 159-144 1/2. That time allowed Ham to secure the meet’s Most Outstanding Track Athlete award.

McCalla captured her first career conference indoor title with a blend of smooth strides and inner strength leading to a personal-best 54.89 in the 400 meters. She then added a personal record and second-place time of 24.52 out of the first heat in the 200. Only Southern Illinois’ Ty’Juana Eason, a double-event winner who also captured the 60-meter championship, was faster. Eason crossed in 24.12 in the second 200 heat.

“I keep telling myself this is my year,” said McCalla, a former NU High and Hudson prep track standout who had placed no higher than sixth in an individual MVC indoor event until this season. “I’ve trained for this and everything I’ve done up until this point has been for this. It’s been awesome.

“Track, they always say it’s 90 percent mental and 10 percent legs. I think that was my biggest enemy. To learn how to overcome that is what got me where I am.”

McCalla has credited a large family, coaches and friends for providing a support system to reach her potential. Her 400-meter time Sunday was the third-fastest indoor performance in school history, and her 200-meter time tied for second. Prior to McCalla, no UNI woman had run a 24.52 indoors since Denise Sauerbrei in 1997.

“I have a great support system, knowing that they believe in me even when I don’t,” McCalla said. “I wanted to better myself in every way that I could and I took every meet as a practice for this meet. Looking at it that way has really pushed me and brought me to where I am. It’s been a wonderful ride.”

McCalla’s big day led a UNI women’s team that placed fourth with 78.5 points. The Panthers received third-place finishes from Lyndsie Schinkel (800), Maria Gonzalez (high jump) and Patrice Watson (60 hurdles).

Ham can relate to McCalla’s wait prior to winning an indoor MVC title. The Solon native estimates he’s endured 16 strained hamstrings and “just continuous pain.” He hadn’t reached a previous event final in the 60 hurdles at this meet until Sunday.

UNI’s senior edged Indiana State’s talented freshman Matthew Lewis-Banks by four-hundredths of a second for the title.

“I was gaining on him and then I just had a rush of where I was like, ‘There’s a will, I want this, and I think I want this more than him,’” Ham said. “It just pushed me to the finish. He’s going to be phenomenal, a freshman, he’s going to have plenty of gold medals. I’m just happy to get one.”

In the men’s team race, UNI received an early boost from Austin Heitland, who set personal records in five of his events and finished just seven points shy of the heptathlon championship to Illinois State’s Jordan Wilkerson, 5,073-5,066.

UNI found success in the shot put where Keegan Tritle placed second, Darius King fourth and Tom Yezek fifth behind an MVC record mark by Southern Illinois’ Adam Kessler of 63 feet, 7 3/4 inches.

Evan Long added runner-up finishes in the 200 and 400, but was kept out of the 4x400 relay due to precautionary measures after tweaking a muscle.

Without Long, Sven Van Den Bergh, Tayshaun Cooper, Bryce Newcomb and Connor Blough carried the stick for a UNI team that closed the day with a championship time of 3:14.38. Cooper found out he’d be added to the relay 30 minutes prior to race and extended UNI’s lead on the second leg as the Panthers ran away from the competition.

“My team is amazing,” said Cooper, a Waterloo native who also ran in the 60 and 200 finals this sophomore season. “I love running with this team. They make me better each and every day.”

Overall, UNI coach Dave Paulsen was pleased with his team’s performance. The Panther men tallied 58.5 more points than a season ago and moved up two spots in the indoor standings.

“If you would have told us at the beginning of the weekend that we’re going to score 144 1/2 points, I would have thought we would have been right there, and we were,” Paulsen said. “They (Illinois State) took a lot in the pole vault (first through fourth) and had a couple other big events.

“We didn’t quite maximize where we needed to. They had a really good day. Give them a lot of credit for their team stepping up. But it was a much different feeling this year than last year.”

MVC Indoor

Women

Team standings – 1. Illinois St. 173, 2. Indiana St. 141, 3. Southern Illinois 95, 4. UNI 78.5, 5. Loyola 60.5, 6. Missouri St. 60, 7. Bradley 41, 8. Drake 8, 9. Valparaiso 6.

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High jump – 1. Kristin Higgins (Ill. St.) 5-8 3/4, 2. Kameesha Smith (Ill. St.) 5-6 1/2, 3. Maria Gonzalez (UNI) 5-5 1/4.

Mile – 1. Brooke Moore (Ind. St.) 4:58.4, 2. Jocelyn Quiles (Ind. St.) 4:59.19, 3. Jessi Conley (Ind. St.) 4:59.85.

60 hurdles – 1. Ayanna Morgan (Ind. St.) 8.28, 2. Demetria Anderson (Ill. St.) 8.30, 3. Patrice Watson (UNI) 8.64.

Triple jump – 1. Jamilah James (MSU) 40-9 1/2, 2. Sarah Olojo (Loyola) 40-1 1/4, 3. Tasjia Thomas (Ind. St.) 39-4 1/2.

400 – 1. Maddie McCalla (UNI) 54.89, 2. Ashleigh Wilson (Ill. St.) 55.81, 3. Genesis Ewell (Southern) 55.81.

60 – 1. Ty’Juana Eason (Southern) 7.38, 2. Kelsie Prear (Ill. St.) 7.49, 3. Ayanna Morgan (Ind. St.) 7.52.

200 – 1. Eason (Southern) 24.12, 2. McCalla (UNI) 24.52, 3. Bri’Anna Branch (Southern) 24.61.

800 – 1. Hattie Plumb (Ill. St.) 2:09.67, 2. Moore (Ind. St.) 2:10.32, 3. Lyndsie Schinkel (UNI) 2:10.62.

Shot put – 1. Cassaundra Roper (Ind. St.) 53-7, 2. Brandy Thomas (Ill. St.) 52-6, 3. Julia Bourke (Ill. St.) 52-2 1/2.

4x400 relay – 1. Southern Illinois 3:44.0, 2. Illinois St. 3:47.02, 3. Indiana St. 3:49.32.

Men

Team standings – 1. Illinois St. 159, 2. UNI 144.5, 3. Indiana St. 95.5, 4. Bradley 86, 5. Southern Illinois 79, 6. Drake 52, 7. Loyola 38, 8. Valparaiso 8.

Heptathlon – 1. Jordan Wilkerson (Ill. St.) 5,073, 2. Austin Heitland (UNI) 5,066, 3. Richard Griffith 5,050.

Shot put – 1. Adam Kessler (Southern) 63-7 3/4, 2. Keegan Tritle (UNI) 61-5, 3. Logan Calvin (Ill St.) 60-1 1/4.

Mile – 1. Jack Anstey (Ill. St.) 4:13.18, 2. Kevin Kelly (Drake) 4:13.57, 3. Quentin Pierce (Ind. St.) 4:14.13.

60 hurdles – 1. Connor Ham (UNI) 7.93, 2. Matthew Lewis-Banks (Ind. St.) 7.97, 3. Theo Phipps (Southern) 8.05.

400 – 1. Ben Montgomery (Ill. St.) 47.39, 2. Evan Long (UNI) 47.79, 3. Sven Van Den Bergh (48.25).

60 – 1. Kundai Maguranyanga (Drake) 6.78, 2. JaVaughn Moore (Ind. St.) 6.78, 3. Jordan Moothery (Ind. St.) 6.87.

200 – 1. Maguranyanga (Drake) 21.37, 2. Long (UNI) 21.65, 3. Montgomery (Ill. St.) 21.69.

High jump – 1. Francis Ehigbai (Ill. St.) 6-10 1/4, 2. Caleb Vogel (Southern) 6-10 1/4, 3. Derek Wegman (Ill. St.) 6-9.

800 – 1. Kimanthi Johnson (Ill. St.) 1:54.46, 2. Alec Hartman (Bradley) 1:54.59, 3. Canoy Tyree (Southern) 1:54.82.

3,000 – 1. Michael Ward (Bradley) 8:16.89, 2. Haran Dunderdale (Bradley) 8:16.96, 3. William Anderson (Bradley) 8:18.45.

4x400 relay – 1. UNI (Van Den Bergh, Tayshaun Cooper, Bryce Newcomb, Connor Blough) 3:14.38, 2. Illinois State 3:16.79, 3. Loyola 3:16.8.

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for The Courier

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