Days after father’s death, Esser advances to NCAAs

Agnes Esser has hit a stride in her sophomore track campaign despite losing a key member of her support system.

Esser finished in second place at the NCAA West Preliminary in discus and broke the school record on May 28 but couldn’t share the news with her father, who passed away from brain cancer just one week earlier.

“It’s just sad. He was always one of the people I’d want to talk to after I threw well,” Esser said. “It was a little emotional after regionals after all my throwing because I couldn’t call him or text him and say like, ‘Hey, this is how I did.’”

Esser has had a breakout season with the Gophers but had to take a different approach to this year than she did as a freshman. 

Esser said that while she made goals to win at the Big Ten Championships with her teammates, she didn’t make any personal goals for the season after learning her father was diagnosed with brain cancer last August.

“I knew it was going to be a tough year because he was terminally ill now, and I never knew when I was going to need to go back home,” she said.

The McBride, B.C., native pressed on with her season despite the personal challenges and has competed well. Esser set a career-best in the hammer throw at the Big Ten Championships with a 61.00-meter throw. The mark placed seventh in the meet and moved her into third place in Gophers history in the event. 

Esser’s biggest performance of the year came in the NCAA West Preliminary. She placed second in the discus and broke the previous school record of 55.72 meters with a 57.91-meter throw. 

“I’ll say I wasn’t expecting anything,” Esser said. “I went into regionals not expecting anything, just trying to make the top 12, so I was surprised and very excited and it was really a good experience.”

She said that although she couldn’t share the victory with her dad, her teammates and throwing coach Peter Miller were there to help her celebrate the accomplishment. 

“That was probably one of the best moments of the meet, honestly,” teammate Lyndsey Thorpe said of Esser breaking the University of Minnesota record. “We were all so happy for her.”

Esser now heads to the NCAA Championship meet this weekend in Eugene, Ore. The Gophers tied a program record of eight qualifiers heading to the meet, and it will be Esser’s first appearance at the contest. 

“I just want to go in there with kind of an open mind [and] have fun,” Esser said. “Do what I’ve been doing in practice and what I’ve been trying to do all year.”