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Big Ten notebook

By Kevin McGavin

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.—Purdue assistant coach Dave Hartman received his first close-up look at Hope Schmelzle two years ago at the Illinois Class 3A girls track and field state finals.

Schmelzle faced a 60-meter deficit when she received the baton in the finals of the 3,200-meter relay at Eastern Illinois University.

By the time the Wheaton, Ill., native, handed off to McKenna Kiple for the anchor leg, the race was too close to call.

Kiple closely matched the split of Schmelzle, and the result was an unprecedented achievement for Wheaton Warrenville South: the Tigers became the first girls team to break the nine-minute mark in state history.

“(Hartman) told me, ‘We’ve got to have this young lady,’” Purdue head coach Lonnie Greene recalled. “(Schmelzle) has all the abilities to be a great one.”

The Boilermakers’ true freshman made her Big Ten Conference outdoor championship debut on the home track Saturday night.

Schmelzle barreled past four runners over the last 300 meters of the 3,000 steeplechase to earn her first all-conference distinction with a time of 10 minutes, 23.38 seconds.

“It’s definitely been a learning experience,” said Schmelzle, who finished seventh in the race won by Michigan State two-event champion Leah O’Connor. “I am so excited to see where (the steeplechase) is going to go from here.”

Schmelzle and Kiple, a freshman at Miami of Ohio, were as versatile as they were indispensable to WW South winning three DuPage Valley Conference championships during their storied prep tenures.

Schmelzle consistently performed in events ranging from 400 to 3,200 meters in high school. Hartman had a simple message for Schmelzle when she arrived on the Purdue campus.

“I think you can be a great steeplechaser,” Schmelzle recalled his words of wisdom.

“I considered myself to be a pretty good athlete in high school,” Schmelzle said. “I played a lot of different sports.”

The steeplechase, with its strategically placed obstacles, is unique to track and field.

“I love the water jumps. I really, really enjoy (the event), much more so than the (3,200 run, which is not conducted at the collegiate level).”

Former Illinois prep state champions Tori Franklin, Lake Kwaza and Dani Bunch had weekends to remember at Purdue.

Franklin, a Downers Grove South product, swept to the win in the triple jump by taking the lead for good in her final attempt in the Sunday preliminaries.

The effort withstood all challenges in the finals; the Michigan State junior added an outdoor championship to augment her conference title from indoor season.

Kwaza, a sprint champion from Sycamore, ran the lead leg on the championship 400-meter relay sprint quartet for Iowa. The sophomore also placed in the open 200 dash.

Bunch, a multiple state champion from Mahomet-Seymour, was runner-up in the hammer throw for Wisconsin and also placed in the shot put.

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