In only three years, Zoe Carrasco has made a name for herself at Bemidji State.

The junior has rewritten the record book for the Beaver women’s track and field program since arriving on campus in 2018-19.

Her efforts have landed her not only a position among BSU’s all-time best throwers, but also a spot at this weekend’s NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Carrasco will become only the fifth BSU athlete to compete at outdoor nationals since 2002 when the shot put event begins at 4 p.m. Saturday, May 29, in Allendale, Mich.

If everything goes her way, Carrasco could earn the sixth national championship in program history. Such a feat would make her only the third Beaver to be crowned national champion alongside program greats Sheena Devine and Liz Mulvihill, who earned their five combined titles in shot put.

Carrasco not only began the season as Zoe Christensen (she married former BSU baseball player Xavier Carrasco in February), but she wasn’t even sure she’d make it to this weekend’s stage for reasons beyond her control.

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Shortened season

When Carrasco began her junior year last fall, the team’s schedule was blank thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We practiced all of last fall not even knowing if we were going to have a season or not,” she said.

As a sophomore in 2020, Carrasco qualified for the NCAA D-II indoor nationals, only to learn the meet had been canceled due to COVID-19 shortly after her arrival. Once the indoor season began in January, she had only a handful of opportunities to qualify for the 2021 indoor nationals.

“I think more than any other year, this year kind of made you appreciate the sport a little bit more knowing that you didn’t have as many opportunities to compete,” Carrasco said.

Carrasco earned an invite to indoor nationals after setting the NCAA provisional mark multiple times and placing second in shot put at the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Indoor Championship. After a slow start, Carrasco jumped from ninth to take fourth overall in the final round, earning All-American honors in the process.

The Glencoe native continued to excel when the outdoor season began, exceeding the NCAA provisional qualifying mark six times in the shot put.

Carrasco set a new BSU outdoor program record at just the right time. Her throw of 15.54 meters (51 feet, 0 inches) at the NSIC Outdoor Championship earlier this month made Carrasco the first Beaver to win a conference title since sprinter Kristi Buerkle in 2011.

“Me and all the other girls were right around each other,” said Carrasco, who won the title by merely half an inch on her triumphant throw. “When I got to my very last throw, it was the farthest one that I’ve had in my entire life.”

“The whole team was rallying around her,” head coach Kevin Kean said. “It was really cool to see because track meets are more like a circus at times and everyone’s (competing) everywhere.”

The record-setting throw landed Carraco an invitation to this weekend’s NCAA outdoor championship as the fifth-ranked athlete in shot put.

“There’s no other way to put it,” Carradsco said of earning the NCAA bid. “I was just absolutely stoked.”

Pushing the limit

Bemidji junior Zoe Carrasco practices a throw on Tuesday, May 25, 2021, ahead of the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Bemidji junior Zoe Carrasco practices a throw on Tuesday, May 25, 2021, ahead of the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Carrasco has come a long way since her days at Glencoe-Silver Lake High School.

“She was a 41-foot shot putter in high school, and she has now gone 51 feet in three short years,” Kean said. “It’s pretty incredible. A 10-foot improvement in that amount of time is rarely heard of. … It’s been incredible to watch her continue to develop.”

Working with BSU throwing coach Ben Baird throughout her collegiate career has helped her continue to push the limit with her throws, both in shot put and the hammer throw, where she also owns the outdoor program record.

“I think most of it comes in practice,” Carrasco said. “Even though we do a lot of technique work at practice, when it comes to competition day, you don’t really think about that stuff. Your body just knows how to do it.

“In my mind, I look at a line out in the sand and I say, ‘OK, I need to hit that line, or I need to hit a foot past that line.’ And before I even walk into the ring, I always look out for the sand and imagine where I need to throw it.”

Away from practice, Carrasco has had much on her plate this past year.

As president of BSU’s Black Student Union, Carrasco has been instrumental in organizing events promoting social justice.

“Being part of the Black Student Union has probably been my favorite experience of being at BSU so far,” she said. “Being able to kind of plant that seed in other people and bring the realization of social justice movements, creating discussions and how we can fix them, and how we can move forward together.”

Besides getting married Feb. 12, Carrasco is in store for another major life change. She’ll soon move to Arizona, where her husband is originally from. She’s set to obtain her criminal justice degree from BSU online next year.

Carrasco will look to end her decorated track and field career on a high note this Saturday. Maybe she’ll even break her own record again.

“The goal is always to PR every single meet,” Carrasco said. “If I can get another PR, that’s the ultimate goal. I’m seeded fifth right now. It’d be nice to keep that seed mark or maybe finish above it. Once you get to a meet like this, it’s really anybody’s day.”