Stevens: Sandy Fortner A Small-Town Girl With Big-Time Talent
Updated June 6, 2010
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
"The Kid" had better look out. If Lobo Sandy Fortner continues her pace, William Bonney, aka Billy The Kid, might lose his status as the most famous resident of Fort Sumner, N.M.
Already, Fortner has established herself as one of the top University of New Mexico track athletes ever. Is she the best-ever Lobo woman track athlete? It's easy to throw out that argument and make it stick. At the least, she is the best-ever multi-event Lobo.
Consider this: No Lobo woman had ever scored a point at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships until Fortner did it this season. The UNM senior grabbed All-American honors along with pentathlon (five events) bronze.
Fortner's next goal is to become a 2010 All-American in outdoor track. If that happens, she'll add that honor to her Indoor All-American status, her two Mountain West Conference Indoor pentathlon titles and her 2008 and 2010 MWC Outdoor heptathlon (seven events) crowns.
Forner is in exactly the right place to make her next dream come true -- the 2010 NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore.
If it doesn't happen, Fortner already has laid down records, goals, and hope for any small-town athlete wondering if he or she can slip out of the shadows of big-school athletes and succeed at the D-I level.
Fortner did this big-time. In fact, she is casting shadows of her own. It`s a remarkable feat, if you consider the odds of arguably the greatest all-around female athlete in UNM history coming from a Class 1A school in a town of maybe 1,200.
It's not so remarkable when you watch Fortner do her things on the track.
To find Fort Sumner, N.M., you have to be looking for it, maybe visiting Billy The Kid's grave, or simply heading toward Clovis or Texas soil. Fort Sumner is a watering hole located about 160 miles Southeast of Albuquerque.
It was there that Fortner became an all-everything including school salutatorian and the first ever Class 1A athlete to win the Albuquerque Journal's Female Athlete of The Year award. Fortner was a four-time, high-point performer at the state meet and set eight Class 1A records in her career. She won state titles in volleyball and basketball.
But could the small-town girl compete at the major college level? Really, that remained to be seen. A lot of big fish from small ponds sink at the D-I level.
It was obvious from her beginnings as a Lobo that Fortner belonged, that she was no small-town wonder. She was the nation's sixth-ranked freshman heptathlete and recorded an NCAA provisional qualifying score as a freshman in 2006.
She improved in 2007 and then had a breakthrough season in 2008 winning the heptathlon at the MWC Outdoors, destroying an 18-year-old UNM record. She advanced to the NCAA Championships, but a knee injured in the MWC meet forced her to drop out of the competition. Earlier that season, she won the MWC Indoors pentathlon and finished 12th at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
The 2009 season wasn't so good for Fortner. The knee on her trailing leg, injured on a hurdle, was broken and didn't heal properly. The injury required surgery and the Lobo missed most of the 2009 season.
She went to meets as a timer, but found motivation in sitting and watching. "I wanted to get back on the track," she said. "I missed competing."
Fortner definitely is back. She smashed her own UNM mark in winning the 2010 MWC Indoor title with a mild/maybe upset over Brigham Young's Amy Otis -- the 2009 NCAA champion. As mentioned, the Lobo went on to All-America honors and NCAA Indoor bronze.
At the Mountain West Championship held last month at UNM, Fortner won the outdoor title with a personal record of 5,723 points -- the most point ever scored at the MWC meet. Fortner set that mark despite battling an intestinal bug on the final day of competition.
"I'm happy with the score," she said. "It helps my confidence at nationals."
Lobo coach Joe Franklin says Fortner's success comes as no surprise. The talent is obvious. But there also is a driven athlete behind all that all-around ability.
"Sandy doesn't just want to be successful. She wants to be exceptional," said Franklin. "And then she puts in the work to make that happen."
Fortner says she wants to see how far her talents can take her. She wanted another MWC outdoor title and she got it in record fashion. She wants All-American status at the NCAA Outdoor. She wants to qualify for the Olympic Trials -- again. Her knee injury kept her out of the Trials in 2008 after she qualified.
The small-town girl from Fort Sumner isn't through making noise in her specialty. Maybe even The Kid will be listening.
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.