By Jesse Wolfersberger: Freedom Newspapers
The way Sandy Fortner competes, it’s easy to forget she’s only a freshman.
Fortner, a Fort Sumner grad in her first year at the University of New Mexico, is best on her team and 27th in the nation in the heptathlon. She said coaches from opposing teams often ask her what year she is.
“I say, ‘freshman,’” she said. “They say, ‘redshirt freshman?’ And I say, ‘No, true freshman.’ They’re usually a little bit in awe.”
In a heptathlon, an athlete competes in seven events: 100-, 200- and 800-meter hurdles, high jump, long jump, shot put and javelin throw. Athletes earn points for each competition; the athlete with the highest score wins.
“It’s hard to get all of those down in one meet,” UNM coach Mark Henry said. “But in high school, she went from volleyball to basketball to track, so she’s used to it.”
At Fort Sumner, Fortner was on five state-championship teams: one in basketball, one in volleyball and three in track. Her senior year, she was named the Albuquerque Journal’s Female Athlete of the Year.
Fortner was a member of the Tucumcari track team for three years, and helped the Lady Rattlers claim state track titles in 2002 and 2003.
Last week, Fortner notched 5,088 points while finishing 11th out of 17 in the Mt. San Antonio College Relays in Walnut, Calif. With that score, she is provisionally qualified for the NCAA Championships in early June in Sacramento, Calif.
“You don’t have many freshmen who get qualified for the NCAAs,” Henry said.
With a provisional qualification, Fortner could go to the NCAA Championships if there are not enough automatic qualifiers to fill the field. She could bypass the guessing game and become automatically qualified with a score of 170 more points.
Fortner said she’s enjoyed her first year with the Lobos, especially getting the chance to travel. She and the rest of the UNM track team are in San Diego competing in the UCSD Triton Invitational.
“This is my third time going to California this year,” she said. “When you travel, you get close to your teammates, and you see how you measure up against people from all over the country.”
Although her freshman year is going well, Fortner has not won a heptathlon this season and has work to do if she wants to contend, not just qualify, for a national title.
“Experience is getting her right now,” Henry said. “But that’s not her fault.”
Fortner said she’s working to improve some of her weaker events, like the 800 meters.
“I have all the basics; it’s just the little things,” she said. “(In the 800) I’m learning how to pace myself for two laps.”
In addition to the heptathlon, Fortner is UNM’s top competitor in the long jump and 100-meter hurdles.
Henry said if there is a finish line or a mark to beat, he can count on Fortner to do well.
“Sometimes we put her in some of our relay teams,” Henry said. “She’s got this competitiveness, she hates to lose. She’s going to run hard every time she gets the baton.”
Sandy Fortner’s twin sister, Kelly, is also on the Lobos track team, but she is redshirting her freshman year because of an injury.