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Race walker Court-Menendez has memorable freshman year for DWU

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Dakota Wesleyan University has a rare gem and her name is Nicole Court-Menendez.

Court-Menendez just finished a freshman season, which saw her earn NAIA track All-American honors in both the indoor and outdoor seasons, qualify for Penn Relays and finish seventh at the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Junior Championships, which was last weekend.

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Court-Menendez's season was so good that when posed with a question about how great a year the athlete had, DWU track coach Pat Belling said, "In my time here, that is the best season any women's track athlete has had."

Belling just completed his seventh year with the Tigers.

Court-Menendez has garnered her accomplishments on the track as a race walk athlete. The race walk is an athletic event that requires the competitor to maintain contact with the ground at all times and requires the leading leg to be straightened as the foot makes contact with the ground. Judges evaluate the technique of the race walkers and report fouls, which may lead to a disqualification if an athlete receives three. All judging is done by the eye of the judge.

The Lewiston, Maine, native has now competed in the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Junior Championships five times. She was a freshman in high school when she first competed at the meet, and the most recent was Sunday in Des Moines, Iowa.

She finished with a time of 59 minutes, 29.37 seconds in the 10,000-meter race walk. The time was a personal record for Court-Menendez, who had never finished under one hour.

"It was a lot of fun, and it was great being able to go back again," Court-Menendez said. "The first time I went it was out in Oregon, and it was a lot scarier then because I was a freshman in high school competing against some freshmen in college. I felt a lot more prepared now, I have gone so many times and have a lot more experience walking a 10K."

During Court-Menendez's historic first season as a Tiger, she set the school record in the indoor 3,000-meter race walk and the outdoor 5,000-meter race walk. The 3,000 record time is 15:54.11, while the 5,000-meter record time is 27:50.88.

After finishing eighth in the 5,000-meter race walk at the NAIA National Outdoor Track and Field National Championships in May, Court-Menendez became the first women's track and field athlete to earn All-American honors in both the indoor and outdoor seasons, and just the third woman to ever score any team points for DWU at the national championships.

Prior to Court-Menendez, only Gail McIntyre -- who competed in the steeplechase -- and sprinter Tamika Irvin earned points for the Tigers at nationals.

"It was a really great season," Court-Menendez said. "My goal coming into the season was to make the nationals and see what happens there and I ended up getting All-American at indoors.

"Outdoor came around and I had the hip injury, so I wasn't really walking as well. I came into nationals seeded 12th, so getting All-American was a surprise."

DWU landed the accomplished Court-Menendez for several reasons.

The first is that the NCAA does not have race walk competitions. Court-Menendez said if it did she possibly would have attended an NCAA school. Even though the NCAA does not have the event, the Olympics does.

She also came to Wesleyan because of academics.

"I wanted a school where I would be able to compete, so I knew I had to go to an NAIA school," Court-Menendez said. "I looked around the Midwest and Dakota Wesleyan University had the best opportunity for me to be able to major in athletic training and also do the race walk. I like Wesleyan because it is a smaller school and being able to know a lot of people at my school and the professors."

While Court-Menendez has already reached some of her goals, Belling said he doesn't expect for her to get complacent.

"I have told her before, it is hard to become an All-American," Belling said. "But moving up, getting better and getting the second and third ones or a national championship is harder. She works hard and she knows that."

After her latest competition, Court-Menendez is taking some time off to rest before she begins cross country in the fall.

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