Feb. 28, 2008
USAF ACADEMY, Colo. - After two years of frustration, University of New Mexico junior Sandy Fortner was ready for a breakout performance in the pentathlon. Today at the Cadet Field House she got it and then some, winning the five-event competition at the Mountain Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships with a convincing school record score of 4,005 that all but secured her place as the first UNM woman to qualify for the NCAA Championships in the pentathlon.
The product of tiny Fort Sumner, N.M. (population 1,060) became the second woman in Lobo history to win a conference title in the pentathlon, joining her former coach Keren Sari-Bentzur who captured the MWC title in 2003 with a then school record 3,845 points. Fortner surpassed Sari-Bentzur's mark by 160 points en route to the fourth-best score in MWC history.
Her score currently ranks ninth in the nation and was just 45 points shy of the NCAA automatic qualifying standard.
Fortner's pentathlon hopes had been derailed each of the past two years at the MWC Championships. In 2006, a promising start was ruined by three straight fouls and no score in the shot put, resulting in a 12th place finish. Last year she entered the meet as the No. 5 seed before failing to clear all three of her opening high jump attempts at 5' 2" and withdrawing from the competition.
Today, however, Fortner - the No. 2 seed - left no doubt as she took the lead from top-ranked Emily Pearson of Colorado State after the second event and never looked back.
Fortner set the tone early, smashing her previous career-bests in the first two events of the day. She clocked an altitude adjusted time of 8.70 - the fastest by a Lobo since 2000 - to finish second in the 60-meter hurdles, then erased the memories of 2007 by winning the high jump with a MWC leading mark of 5' 8 1/2" (1.74m). Fortner ran 0.16 seconds under her previous best in the hurdles and was a remarkable 3 1/4" over her PR in the high jump.
Pearson trimmed the to lead to 72 points after the shot put when Fortner, the top thrower in the pentathlon group, finished a surprising third (39' 8" - 12.09m).
Fortner rallied in the fourth event though, finishing second in the long jump (18' 9 3/4" - 5.73m) and building a 143-point lead despite jumping well under her previous best this season. Pearson also landed well short of her previous best as the Ram senior was fifth with a mark of 18' 1/4".
Fortner came up with a gutsy performance in the final event, the 800-meter run, to close the door on the rest of the field. She clocked an altitude-adjusted time of 2:29.20 to finish fifth in the event - 3.38 seconds ahead of Pearson and just 9.2 seconds behind the nearest gold medal contender, San Diego State's Kristin Olafsdottir.
While Fortner will enjoy her victory tonight, the multi-event star gets back to work tomorrow as she competes in the 60-meter hurdles prelims and the long jump. Saturday afternoon the new MWC high jump leader will join junior teammate and defending indoor and outdoor champion Tiyana Peters to give the Lobos a powerful 1-2 punch in the event.