Balentine is first on WAC track for 'Bows
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
The marathon portion of the Western Athletic Conference Outdoor Track & Field Championships is over. Hawai'i arrived in Ruston, La., 17 hours after leaving home Monday. Now come the events that count.
Rainbow Wahine freshman Samantha Balentine is in the heptathlon competition today and tomorrow, and 19 of her teammates join her for the rest of the events Friday and Saturday at Louisiana Tech. The Techsters have won the past five women's titles, and captured their third straight Indoor championship in February.
The 'Bows are entered in 19 events and coming off their best WAC Outdoor finish. A year ago they were fifth, with 105.5 points and nine medalists. All are UH bests since the school competed in its first WAC Championships in 2001.
Annett Wichman earned nearly a third of the UH points last year, winning a record fourth consecutive heptathlon title and scoring in five events. The four-time All-American graduated in kinesiology and rehabilitation science soon after. In a trifecta of major scholar-athlete proportions, she was named UH's Jack Bonham Award winner, the WAC's Stan Bates Award winner and the conference's representative for NCAA Woman of the Year in her senior year.
Now she is a newlywed and will soon leave for Reno. Husband Cody Fleming, who was a decathlete at the University of Oregon, is an assistant track coach at Nevada. Wichmann hopes to be back in Mānoa with him next year for the WAC Championships, as an assistant for the Wolf Pack.
She would wear blue and bleed green. "My heart," says Wichmann, "is with UH, of course."
The 26-year-old German took Hawai'i to heart from the start. She took up salsa dancing to meet more people — all over the island. She has been working with physical therapist, and former Rainbow Wahine, Linda Fernandez since graduation.
Wichmann has "found solace" from the competitive void and "my connection to the ocean" by paddling. She just finished her third channel crossing. The first came with a team a week after she started the sport. The latest was last week, rotating with a partner in a solo canoe.
In between she has been training, and training others at UH as a volunteer. Balentine has been "my little project right from the beginning."
"She is a special, amazing athlete," Wichmann says. "She picks up things so quickly."
Wichmann and coach Carmyn James also see medals in others' futures, most prominently high jumper Amber Kaufman. She won silver at the NCAA Indoors in March and bronze at last year's NCAA Outdoors.
The two-time WAC Outdoor champion, and volleyball All-American, jumped 6 feet, 3.75 inches in March. That ranks No. 1 in the NCAA, No. 2 in America and No. 6 in the world this year.
Others with distinct medal possibilities are hurdler Thalia Amanakis, high jumpers Sarah Saddleton and Balentine, triple jumper Madara Apine, discus thrower TeRina Keenan, distance runner Jessica Forrester, and Karen Guravska and Lauren Cutler, who train in the javelin with Wichmann.
"So it could be quite good," Wichmann said. "You never know how it will turn out, but I have hope."
The Rainbow Wahine could send eight to the NCAA West Regional later this month. They rank 51st nationally — second in the WAC to LaTech, which is 46th.