In just her third collegiate meet, and first ever official run through the event, Northern Arizona track & field's Madeline Wilson set the program's record in the pentathlon.
Scoring 3,487 points, Wilson broke the 38-year-old record of 3,366 points — set in 1982 by Monique Donithan — at the Mountain T's Invitational at the end of January. No other NAU track & field record, regardless of gender, had stood longer than Donithan's mark.
A native of Flagstaff out of Flagstaff High School, Wilson set the new mark with her parents in attendance at the Walkup Skydome, but admitted she never expected it was possible as she entered her first season with the Lumberjacks. Jumps and multis coach Matthew Harmeyer held a differing opinion on his athlete's potential to break the record.
"When I first arrived here and saw what the pentathlon school record was, to be honest, I knew there was great potential in that first year to really take that record down," said Harmeyer, who joined the staff in December 2018.
A little less than five months after Harmeyer's hiring, Wilson announced she'd be joining Northern Arizona's program. Her signing came just a few weeks before competing in her first multi event at the Arizona State Decathlon/Heptathlon. While she scored 4,027 to finish second in the heptathlon at that meet, behind only future Southern Utah athlete Seadra Hamilton, Wilson admitted she wasn't entirely confident when moving on to compete for NAU.
"I was kind of intimidated and I didn't think I would do that well," Wilson said. "But I worked my butt off for fall training, and my coaches did an awesome job training us. Honestly, the coaches were the ones who made me feel like I could do it and they were the ones that made it happen."
Wilson went on to be NAU's first pentathlete at the Big Sky Conference indoor meet since 2017, and the first to score since a third-place finish by Jade Childs in 2014. Scoring 3,379 points in the event, Wilson took seventh place and landed as the highest ranking freshman in the event. Among those she topped was Hamilton, who placed just behind Wilson in eighth with 3,286.
"For her to be the first one to score since 2014 in her first ever conference meet, I thought she handled herself pretty well," said Harmeyer, while noting Wilson followed up that performance with a strong performance on the team's 4x400m relay team that clinched the Big Sky team title.
Finishing third in the 60m hurdles with a time of 9.07, Wilson earned 895 points toward her final score. Another third-place finish in high jump with a mark of 1.66 meters for 806 points gave the freshman more than half her points at the Big Sky meet.
Unsurprisingly, hurdles and high jump were Wilson's specialties in high school for the Eagles. A three-time state qualifier in the 100m hurdles, 300m hurdles and high jump, Wilson arrived at NAU with a strong base of marks in the events. In fact, Wilson's high jump personal record of 5-5 from March 2019 is what helped NAU and Harmeyer become interested from the beginning.
"There's some criteria when I first took this job as I wanted to keep in-state kids close. Obviously her being right down the road, she was a priority," Harmeyer said. "So starting off with high jump and hurdles, to me as a combined events coach, that's a good combo. If you can high jump well and hurdle well, those are massive points."
Wilson said her head coach at Flagstaff informed her that college coaches had grown interested in her should she compete as a multi athlete. With the state heptathlon following a week after her team's state meet, Wilson had the opportunity to record marks in the 200m, 800m, shot put and javelin.
"I never really considered it, but that was a great idea because hurdles and high jump were my strengths and those are like the two main components of a multi," Wilson said. "He started training us for that. That's when I really realized that it's really fun, something that is totally engaging and that I'm pretty good at."
Apart from the wide range of training needed to cover all of an athlete's skills in the multis, Harmeyer said Wilson took to the challenge of staying level throughout all the events.
"As she went through the competition and did what she needed to, it became more realistic and she started to become a student of the event," Harmeyer said. "We would debrief after every event and she would say 'Hey Coach, I am so and so points up or so and so points down. What do we need to do next?' ... I told her once she becomes passionate at the event, she is going to be special to work with."
Wilson is just the beginning of Harmeyer's plan at NAU. A former decathlete at Iowa State, Harmeyer competed at the Big 12 Championships for the Cyclones and has a desire to build the events in Flagstaff.
With just four women competing in the pentathlon for NAU at the Big Sky Conference indoor championships since 2004, and few men or women reaching the conference's outdoor championship meet over the past decade, Harmeyer has his sights set on rebuilding the events at NAU.
"Next year, I'll have three and then hopefully the year after I'll have 4 to 5," Harmeyer said. "I think during the interview process, and kind of the way Mike (Smith) had been talking, I think multi-event athletes are best utilized in the scholarships system. So you take Maddie for example, she's going to do the pentathlon, a 4x400m, and high jump all in one weekend for us at a conference meet.
"And I think the more training partners, you can have some more fun the experience is," Harmeyer added.
Based on her success in her first year with NAU, Wilson knows Harmeyer is capable of taking multiple athletes under his wing like he's done with her.
"It's his thing, he loves it and he's really meticulous with each individual event. He just encourages us to be balanced across all events,” Wilson said. “We train for all events, but he really emphasizes our strengths as multis.”
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