BEMIDJI -- Zoe Christensen accomplished something only two other Bemidji State women’s track and field athletes have in the last 18 years. The sophomore thrower earned NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field All-American honors, as announced by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association on Tuesday.
“I’m happy to just get the opportunity to represent the school and small, little Bemidji, and all my teammates and coaches,” said Christensen, who competes in shot put. “I never really thought I’d be in college playing sports. … It’s a good accomplishment. I’m happy I’ve been able to accomplish this.”
“Zoe is a tremendous leader for our program,” said head coach Kevin Kean. “It’s going to be really fun to continue building a team around people like Zoe. Having the All-American under her belt now will give her even stronger confidence to help push the other student-athletes around her.”
Christensen is the first indoor track and field athlete to be named an All-American since Kristin Buerkle in 2011 and is the second thrower since 2002 to earn such recognition, along with two-time indoor All-American Sheena Devine.
A native of Glencoe, Minn., Christensen is just the latest top-notch shot-putter to roll through BSU. Devine and Joe Remitz, who are now married, each won shot put national championships, with Devine’s titles coming in 2007 (indoor and outdoor) and 2008 (indoor), and Remitz’s in 2008 (outdoor).
Liz Mulvihill also won the 1988 indoor national title in shot put.
“I remember when I met Sheena and Joe last year one time,” Christensen said. “They’re literally the best you can be. … I just feel like they’re celebrities in the BSU world. The fact that my name is now on the same list as them (as All-Americans), I’m just so honored to be able to share that same type of opportunity.”
With the help of throwing coach Ben Baird, Christensen has improved immensely since arriving on campus two years ago. She could throw about 40-41 feet in high school, but has since set a personal-best of 48 feet, 9 inches in February, a mark that qualified her for the Division II indoor nationals.
“I think definitely what helped me the most was our weight training,” Christensen said. “Ben put a lot of us on really big strength training and I did that over the last summer, and then even over Christmas break I was able to gain a lot more strength.”
“She puts in a lot of extra time that people don’t necessarily see,” Kean added. “And when she’s focused, you can’t get in the way of her goals.”
The work she put in in the weight room paid off when Christensen achieved the NCAA provisional qualifying mark at a Duluth meet in February.
“That was definitely the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in my life probably,” she said. “My teammates started coming and hugging me because we knew it was going to be good enough.”
Christensen arrived in Birmingham, Ala., for the NCAA D-II Indoor National Championships, which was scheduled for March 13-14. Before she was ever able to attempt a throw, the meet was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A barbecue restaurant was where Christensen learned her season was over from watching ESPN with Baird and a teammate.
“We weren’t too upset because we kind of knew going in that it was a possibility,” Christensen said. “We were glad that we actually got to go to Alabama and experience the facility and everything.”
The entire outdoor schedule was also wiped out. With a talented crop of athletes that has broken its share of school records, the Beavers had high hopes after a promising 2019 outdoor season that saw the team place seventh at the NSIC Championships, the program’s best finish in almost a decade.
“I would say we are definitely an outdoor team with the hammer throw thrown in there, literally,” Kean said. “We are a better squad outdoors. Gena Baklund would’ve probably made the national championships outdoors and scored some points there. Zoe would’ve made the outdoor championships, I’m pretty confident, in both the shot put and the hammer throw.”
Kean also singled out the 4x100 relay team as a group that could’ve made nationals.
“I definitely think we would’ve placed higher than last year,” Christensen said. “A lot of our girls got better. Our freshmen are absolutely amazing. … So yeah, it stinks that we didn’t get to do that this year, but next year is just a whole nother year of training. I think next year it’ll be even better than what it would’ve been this year.”