Kaitlyn Long takes hard journey to become Division I national champion

Long transferred from Winona State to the Gophers for her final year of collegiate eligibility.

Senior Kaitlyn Long competes in the throwing event during a meet during the Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Championship on Feb. 24, 2018.

Courtesy of Becky Miller

Senior Kaitlyn Long competes in the throwing event during a meet during the Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Championship on Feb. 24, 2018.

Kaleb Medhanie

As a sprinter in high school, Kaitlyn Long tore her hamstring for the first time during her freshman year and again her sophomore year. And then again during her junior year. 

After Long decided that sprinting wouldn’t be in her future, her coaches at Monona Grove told her to switch to throwing.

Minnesota’s coaching staff is glad she stuck with it. Long became the second athlete in Minnesota’s history to win a national title on March 10, doing so in the weight throw, an event she picked up late in high school.

Long will look to build on this when the team’s outdoor season starts in North Carolina on Friday.

“I’m not really sure why I did [choose track],” Long said. “I thought I had the most room improvement in track. My coach at Winona recruited me initially saying, ‘I had one of the worst forms in shot put and it still went far.’”

Winona State was the only school to offer Long a scholarship offer for track and field. Long said she received more interest for volleyball out of high school. She also played basketball for Monona Grove.

Originally, Long did track not out of desire, but to keep herself in shape during the offseason, as her basketball coach of the time recommended. She was a sprinter who ran the 100-meter, 200-meter, 4×100 meter and did shot put, too.

Mike Turgeon, an assistant coach at Winona, worked with the current Gophers athlete when she was with the Division II program. In Long’s first meet for Winona, she fouled all three times.

Long went on to become a Division II national champion for the Warriors in that same season.

The following day Long and Turgeon went out to Lena’s Ole Hickory in Birmingham, Alabama for breakfast.

“She seemed kind of down and I said, ‘Kaitlyn you just won a national title as a freshman, what’s bothering you?’” Turgeon said. “She goes, ‘Well I’ve broken a school record, a conference record, and every meet record, I’m just upset I didn’t break the national record.’”

In her sophomore season, Long had to beat a record-breaking mark to win the weight throw title a second time. Heavin Warner from Central Missouri had broke the national record with a throw of 21.54 meters and was announced on the PA system. Long was next and broke the record by throwing 22.70 meters on her first throw. The PA system had to announce a national record again.

“When I went down and watched her play a volleyball game, I told her, ‘You’ll win a national title at Winona’ by her junior year in the weight throw. I guess … I was wrong,” Turgeon said. “I thought it would take her until her junior year but it took her four and a half months.”

Turgeon left in June of 2017 to become the head coach at Mankato State. Long also left the Warriors, but she went to Minnesota with one year eligibility left. She is now in her senior season with the Gophers.

“I decided to transfer, because Winona didn’t have any lead on a new coach to replace him,” Long said. “I have one more year and I don’t want to risk wasting it, I kind of took it as my opportunity to go to a bigger school.”

She got in contact with both the University of Minnesota and University of Wisconsin. On her tour with the Gophers, she said got along with the coaches and players. She committed in July of 2017.

She had a career-best throw of 24.37 meters, which earned her No. 1 all time in program history, doing so by winning the Big Ten title in the weight throw.

Long went on to the NCAA championship and won the event throwing 23.30 meters. She fouled her first two times, but nonetheless, she earned the title.

“When she committed in the summer time, we thought she could win the Big Ten title and she has a shot of winning the national title,” head coach Matt Bingle said. “To actually do those is pretty much a dream season in my opinion for her, everything that you could have possibly wanted to happen, happened.”