Bridgewater College senior Courtney Hartman, a 2006 graduate of Lord Botetourt High School, capped off a stellar career last Friday afternoon by winning the national title in the heptathlon at the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field Championships hosted by Baldwin-Wallace College near Cleveland, Ohio.
Hartman is the first female at Bridgewater to win an individual track & field title and just the second BC athlete to be crowned a national champion in track & field. Isaac Rodgers won the indoor triple jump national championship in 1985.
Hartman earned All-American honors in the heptathlon for the second straight year as she finished sixth in the 2009 competition. She also received All-American honors earlier this season when she placed sixth at NCAA Indoors Championships in the pentathlon. She became the first ODAC athlete to win the national title in the heptathlon.
Hartman finished the two-day competition with 4,904 points and in the process shattered her BC record of 4,618 points.
Hartman’s victory capped a huge week at the championships as teammate Christina Rhodes claimed All-American honors in the pole vault Thursday with a sixth-place finish. Rhodes also received the NCAA Elite 88 award that is presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA’s 88 championships.
Hartman earned All-American honors in the heptathlon a year ago, but preparing for this year’s national meet was an entirely different feeling for the BC standout.
“A year ago, I was confident going into the meet. But regardless of how things went, I knew I would have another year and more meets to run,” Hartman said Friday evening just hours after winning the title. “About a week ago, I started to get really nervous. It started to hit me that this was going to be it. This was going to be my last meet.”
Heading to the first day of competition, Hartman knew the first event– the 100 meter hurdles– would probably be the key to her overall performance. “On the way to the meet Thursday, I told Coach (James River grad Melissa Baker) Nice that ‘if I get a good hurdles time, I’m going to do it.'”
“It” was winning the national title. Her pre-meet conversation turned out to be prophetic. Hartman not only ran a good time, she ran a great time. Her time of 15.24 seconds shattered her personal best and got her off to solid start.
“That time in the hurdles was unbelievable,” Hartman said. “It gave me so much confidence.”
After a solid effort in the high jump, Hartman had the third best throw of her career in the shot put before finishing off the day with her specialty– the 200 meters. Hartman ran 25.08, just .03 off her personal best, and trailed leader Emma Dewart of Ithaca College by 70 points heading into the final three events on Friday.
Friday’s first event was the long jump, an event that gave her some trouble earlier this year. Hartman was on the way to posting a big score at the Liberty heptathlon when she fouled on all three jumps.
Thoughts of a repeat performance never entered her mind. “I competed in a couple more heptathlons after Liberty and didn’t have any problems,” Hartman said. “We worked hard on the long jump heading into nationals so I was confident I would have a good jump.”
She posted a distance of 16 feet, 8 inches in the long jump and trailed Dewart by 92 points with two events remaining. “That was a good jump, but I was hoping for better,” she admitted. “But I felt like I was still in good position.”
The point total shifted to Hartman’s favor in the javelin throw. Dewart failed to post a distance, essentially ending her hopes for a national title. Hartman’s first two throws were in the 105 feet range, but on her final throw, Hartman posted a distance of 120 feet to take an 83-point lead over Kara VandeGuchte from Hope College heading into the final event.
“When Courtney pulled out that last throw in the javelin, that gave her some cushion heading into the last event,” BC head coach Shane Stevens said.
Before preparing for her final event, Hartman took a moment to talk with Dewart.
“I felt really bad for Emma,” Hartman said. “She’s just a sophomore and she’s an amazing athlete. I went over to give her some words of encouragement and tell her what a great athlete she was. I’ve been in that situation before and others have been there to encourage me, so I wanted to do the same.”
Hartman didn’t know she was in the lead until the coaches told her the situation just before the start of the 800 meters.
The person to watch was Leah Kay of Concordia-Moorhead, a runner capable of ripping off a fast time in the 800. Kay was in third place, but was still within striking distance.
“They told me Leah had to run a 2:20 before and then they told me that she could not beat me by more than six seconds. I have to admit that it made me a little nervous,” said Hartman.
Not only did Hartman keep an eye on Kay, she ran right with her.
“I stayed in front of her until the final 200 when we both started our kick. She caught me at the line, but she didn’t beat me by six seconds.” In fact, Hartman’s time of 2:24.60, another personal best, was just .22 behind Kay.
The final tally was 4,904 points, nearly 300 points better than her personal best.
“Coming into the meet, I wanted to win and I wanted to be an All-American, but those weren’t my main goals,” Hartman said. “My main goal was to leave everything on the track. It was my last meet and I was going to give it my all and hopefully that would be good enough.”
It was more than good enough. It was a fitting end to a stellar career as an Eagle. It was good enough to be crowned a national champion.