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Bison Toni Tollefson takes a leap during her high jump event earlier this season. (NDSU Athletics)1 / 2
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The North Dakota State University track and field team is quickly finding out what the communities of Lake Park and Audubon already knew -- that Ashley Tingelstad and Toni Tollefson are pretty good athletes.

The two Bison women's track and field athletes starred for the LP-A Raiders through the 2007-08 seasons, becoming the first two athletes in school history to claim state championships.

Tollefson won the Class 1A state high jump championships in 2007 and 2008, while Tingelstad took the sprinting Triple Crown in 2008 after triumphing in each of the 100, 200 and 400-meter dash events.

Now, the former Raider duo have taken their talents and skills to the Division I Collegiate level, and they are both already making their marks wearing the Green-and-Gold.

"It is unusual as freshmen to make such a transition so well to the collegiate level," said NDSU head track and field coach Ryun Godfrey. "They have been everything we've hoped they were going to be."

Already, Tollefson owns the NDSU outdoor high jumping record, after she nailed a height of 5-11.5 at the Duke Invitational April 2.

Tingelstad also has become the Summit League's top 100 sprinter, while holding the No. 2 seed in the 200 and No. 3 seed in the 400 in the upcoming conference outdoor finals May 13-15.

But in neither case did it come easy, as both Tingelstad and Tollefson had to go through some trials and tribulations before becoming key contributors for the Bison.

Missed year turns out well for Tollefson

After winning her second consecutive state high jumping title, Tollefson's choice for college was an easy one.

"NDSU was really the only college I was looking at seriously," the LP-A native said. "It was Division I, too, so that also was a main factor as well."

Division I track and field is not like football, where there are two levels of competition.

Instead, there is just one level to Division I, so the Bison go up against the best the nation's universities have to offer.

But that factor has not been an intimidating one for Tollefson, whose 5-11.5 high jump mark places her in the top five in the nation.

That in itself is important, because it basically already qualifies her for the Western Regionals, otherwise known as the first round of the NCAA Championships.

Tollefson did have to be patient to finally start high jumping for the Bison competitively.

Before her freshman year at NDSU in 2009, a mistake was found in her class list during her time at LP-A which made her ineligible.

She wasn't allowed to practice with the team or compete at all as a Bison, as well as losing her scholarship for the first year of her schooling.

"I was extremely disappointed and didn't realize that was going to be a problem," Tollefson said of the complicated NCAA rule. "I was still able to work by myself, but it was hard to stay motivated during that time."

But what did work out in Tollefson's favor was the opportunity to slowly transition into college life, while staying in shape and not having to deal with the pressures of being a student-athlete right away.

"When I came into this season, I had more of an idea of what to expect, it was an entirely different ballgame for me," Tollefson said of the year off. "I used that year off to adjust to college life.

"It wasn't ideal, but it was beneficial."

The improvements in her height are pretty dramatic from her state-championship jumps of 5-6 and 5-7 during high school.

She consistently is hitting the 5-8 mark and has hit 5-9, as well.

But so far, that 5-11.5 she hit at Duke is her new bar.

"I would like to know how I did it," Tollefson said with a laugh. "I wasn't nervous at all and I just kept PR'ing (personal record). I was in a zone, with just me, (teammate) Courtney Carpenter and my coach."

The 5-11.5 has certainly changed Tollefson's outlook and path, because the ceiling has been lifted.

But Tollefson still needs to practice patience the rest of the way.

"She's been putting pressure on herself to hit that again on a consistent basis, but that's just not realistic," Godfrey said. "She is now hitting 5-8 consistently and now she should start hitting 5-9 consistently.

"Every jumper has a barrier and 6-0 should be a goal for her, but it has to be done in steps."

But as Tollefson has proven, she is up for the challenge.

"High jumping is my life," she added.

Tingelstad gives up one love for the other

Tingelstad was an elite high school athlete in both basketball and track.

She won the Triple Crown in 2008 for LP-A, then transferred to East Grand Forks, where she won the 100 and 400 dash events and took second in the 200 her senior year -- despite being injured for most of the season.

Tingelstad had already signed her letter of intent to play for the Bison women's basketball team, as well as track and field.

But by September of 2009, she dropped basketball to fully concentrate her time and energy on running.

"Basketball just wasn't my thing anymore," Tingelstad said.

But by then, Tingelstad was about two months behind in her sprinting training, and it showed in her first couple of events of the indoor season.

"Ashley was pretty frustrated in her first couple of indoor meets, but she was behind in her training," Godfrey said.

So the NDSU coach struck a deal with Tingelstad -- break the 58-second mark in the 400 dash and she would make the team for the Indoor Summit League Meet.

Not only did Tingelstad break 58, she broke the 57-second mark and ended up placing third in the conference indoor meet.

Her improved times can be accredited to her start out of the blocks.

"It was more intense training from high school and changing my starting block techniques also helped," Tingelstad said. "But I didn't expect to be running these times during the outdoor season from the indoor season."

Tingelstad has a 100 best-time of 11.86, which is the fastest time in the Summit League.

She is seeded No. 2 in the conference in the 200 with a 24.45 mark, as well as third in the 400 at 55.50.

The goal in the 400, though, is to hit 54 seconds.

"Getting a 54.80 or better can get you into the Western Regionals," Godfrey said. "I told her try and go out and race her competition and not race the stopwatch.

"One thing about both Toni and Ashley is they don't shy away from competition, and that's an intangible coaches can't coach."

All-Conference honors are awarded to the top three finishers in each event, while making it out of the Western Regionals and into the NCAA Championships is a tough task to order, with less than five percent of D-I athletes qualifying.

Another rarity Tollefson and Tingelstad bring to the Bison is they both come from the same small community -- while both being big contributors for a Division I college team.

"It's been really cool having Toni as a teammate (at NDSU)," Tingelstad said. "It's cool going back to LP-A basketball games and seeing our names up on the gym wall for winning state championships."

The Bison and Godfrey now have the opportunity to experience the success the former Raider duo bring.

"It's nice to have two great athletes who work hard to be able to stay near home and do well," Godfrey said.

Tingelstad and Tollefson both went down into the Raider history books and expect when it's all said and done, they will be in the Bisons' as well.

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.