Abby Stets was shocked when she glanced at the time.
In Waverly, Iowa, Stets was part of St. Olaf’s distance medley relay competing in early March at the Last Chance Meet, named so because it’s the final opportunity for track and field athletes to qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Stets, a senior who graduated from Northfield High School in 2014, had a feeling her team was moving at a decent clip, but when she noticed the time as Jordan Lutz was starting her final lap of the mile leg, Stets realized the Oles were flying. By the time Lutz finished her mile, the team had posted the fourth-fastest time in the country at 11 minutes, 41.71 seconds.
“It was crazy,” Stets said. “We were definitely jumping up and down and screaming our heads off during the last lap of the DMR race.”
The team of Stets, Lutz, senior Jena Moody and freshman Katie Elstad then finished sixth at the NCAA Championships to earn All-American honors. The distance medley relay is four legs of varying distances. First up is a 1,200-meter run, followed by a 400, an 800 and then the mile.
Last year, Stets and her teammates narrowly missed qualifying for the NCAA Championships with Stets running the 400. Then, as St. Olaf women’s track and field coach Katie Bretscher was brainstorming how to best align a team with three seniors returning, she came to a relization.
“In January, I was brainstorming like, ‘Well Abby is a really good 400 runner, but she’s never raced the 800,’” Bretscher said. “I knew the only way to convince Abby to run the 800 was to tell her, ‘Look, I think that if we want to qualify, I think you’re going to have to run the 800 leg.’ That was enough to convince her to run.”
Stets ran her first 800 competitively in a meet in January and it more or less worked out. Since the DMR isn’t a typical event, the team didn’t compete again until the Last Chance Meet. At last year’s meet, Stets similarly thought her team had ran quick enough to qualify only to miss the cut by a few seconds.
That feeling set off a year-long mission to qualify for this year’s NCAA Championships. Bretscher would often see Stets, who also plays soccer for St. Olaf, in the training room before and after soccer practice. Each time, Stets brought up the DMR.
“I think for all three of them they were talking about it throughout the year,” Bretscher said. “Being so close the year before really kind of set them up for this year and wanting more and wanting to get to nationals and really believing in themselves.”
That might be evident through what Stets fought through to run this year. She says she was diagnosed near the start of the season with a torn hip flexor, but has been postponing surgery and running through the pain to be able to compete in her senior season.
That’s part of the reason she was so keen to run the 800. Before this year, she competed mostly in the 200 and 400, but with the hip injury, longer distances mean the pain is easier to manage.
Stets will continue to delay her surgery to take part in the upcoming outdoor season. After the success in the indoor season, shes is feeling confident entering outdoor, which is slated to get underway Saturday at the Aston May Invitational in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
“It kind of takes the pressure off of outdoor a little bit,” Stets said. “It takes a little bit of pressure off and it tells us we can compete at that level. We can do it at the relays and it gives me more individual confidence. I’m excited to pursue maybe the 800 in outdoor but maybe the 200 again.”