By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
Two years ago, when the University of Nebraska-Omaha announced it was dropping football, it would have been hard to convince Nathan Hancock that was a good thing.
The Missouri native had just finished his red-shirt freshman season with UNO and now had no place to play football the following fall. Although football was his primary sport, he was a good track and field athlete as well so he started shopping around for a D-II college that would allow him to participate in both sports.
“When UNO dropped football almost all of us had about 40 offers from other schools right away,” said Hancock. “But there weren’t a lot of schools that would allow me to do both football and track. I wanted to go someplace that had a good civil engineering program, too.”
Hancock was considering South Dakota School of Mines as well as Colorado School of Mines but, when he came to visit Minnesota State, he knew right away he had found his new home.
“The facilities were great, they were national powers in both football and track and they had a good civil engineering program,” he said. “I had scheduled another visit to UND but after I visited here I knew that was a waste of time.”
The move proved to be good for both Hancock and Minnesota State. He has become a starter with the MSU football team and is just coming into his own in track.
On Monday, Hancock put the finishing touches on a school-record performance in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference indoor heptathlon at Bud Myers Field House. Trailing by a point going into the final event, he bested leader Henrik Holmberg of Augustana by six seconds to win the 1,000-meter run and capture the league’s heptathlon title with 5,276 points.
Holmberg finished second with 5,213 points, MSU’s Tandy Juell was third with 5,078 and the MSU-Moorhead’s Laquone Robinson was fourth with 5,036. All four scores are expected to be good enough to qualify for NCAA D-II indoor nationals.
“It was a good day,” Hancock said. “The events on the first day (the 60-meter dash, shot put, long jump and high jump) are usually my stronger ones but I did well today (in the 60-meter hurdles, pole vault and 1,000-meter run). I PR’d in the 1,000 so I guess that’s becoming one of my best events.” In addition to the 1,000, Hancock won the long jump (22-feet-8) and was second in both the pole vault (13-7 1/4) and high jump (6-6 1/4). His effort improved his automatic qualifying mark and is the fourth best point total in Division II.
Hancock was third in the NSIC indoor heptathlon a year ago and went on to finish sixth in Division II. He was unable to compete in the outdoor decathlon due to a stress fracture in his foot.
“I’m being a little more careful this year,” he said. “I want to stay healthy so that doesn’t happen again.”
Juell’s point total included a first in the pole vault (14-11), a first in the shot put (42-4 1/4), a fourth in the long jump (21-5), a second in the 60 meters (7.08) and a fourth in the 1,000 meters (2:55.30).
Like Hancock, he defeated the one competitor he had to beat to move up in the final standings.
“I just had to stay ahead of (Moorhead’s Robinson) in the 1,000,” Juell said. “I knew if he didn’t pass me I would finish third.”
MSU coach Mark Schuck had nothing but praise for Hancock and Juell.
“They’re two excellent athletes,” he said. “They should be right up there at nationals, too. And they’ve already given us a good start in the conference meet.”
MSU’s Robert Gunderson ended up seventh on Monday with 4,761 points. He was second in the hurdles (8.57) and third place in the pole vault (13-7 1/4).
The sixth-ranked Mavericks are back in action Friday at the Snow Shoe Open hosted by the University of Minnesota.