Eleventh Heaven: Piper Jensen and Bison T&F Fly High

Piper Jensen makes it immediately clear that the North Dakota State women’s track and field team is not taking their foot off the gas anytime soon. NDSU has won an astounding 21 Summit League track and field championships, combining indoor and outdoor seasons, dating back to the 2007-2008 indoor campaign.

With their triumph Feb. 24, the Bison collected their 11th consecutive indoor championship, which pushed the overall mark to 21. When asked how it felt to participate in such a culture of winning, Jensen was swift to point out that the women intend to take home yet another outdoor championship this spring.

“Soon to be 11,” she interjected, alluding to NDSU’s 10-year run atop the Summit League outdoor women’s field. While Jensen, a senior from Shorewood, Minnesota was only a sixth-grader when the Bison’s run of excellence began, she understands the importance of continuing the streak.

“Honestly, there is a lot of pressure on all of us because you don’t want to be the class that lets them down,” Jensen said. With a competitive swagger and confidence that belies an amiable and soft-spoken personality, Piper Jensen and the Bison seek to continue their dominant run when the outdoor season begins in two weeks.

Jensen got her start in track and field as a middle schooler, but it was not until her time at Minnetonka High School that she began to specialize. “I never really did triple jump until high school,” she explained. “I’ve always been into jumping with basketball, so I knew I would never be a runner.”

The aspiring college athlete mulled offers, including ones from Division III schools such as St. Thomas that sought her for track and field as well as basketball. The assistance of longtime friend Anna Benke, a former NDSU pole vaulter who attended the same high school as Jensen and taught her the triple jump, pushed the aspiring college athlete over the edge in her recruiting decision. “She was my big sister. She took me on the visit and showed me how much of a family the Bison really were,” Jensen remarked. “That stood out to me compared to other schools I visited.”

The selection of NDSU has paid dividends for Jensen’s athletic development, thanks in large measure to jumps coach Clayton Pritchard. While he has only coached Jensen for two years, she and fellow jumper Bailey DeMar have seen their figures benefit from Pritchard’s stewardship.

Pritchard began in Fargo in 2016, but Jensen regrets he had not arrived sooner. “I wish Clayton would have come here my first year,” she said. “I at least get two years with him, but I wish I would have had the full time because I feel like Bailey and I would have been even better by now.”

The presence that Pritchard, who had been a volunteer assistant at the University of Nebraska, provides transcends. “He makes practice fun. We do a lot of team dinners too just to bond outside of practice. It doesn’t feel like we’re even working.”

The mixture of strong coaching and a relaxed environment has led to incredible results for Jensen, who helped the Bison to the streak-preserving Summit League title this year. She set personal bests en route to finishing in the top three in both the long and triple jumps.

On Friday at the Summit League championships, Jensen placed first in the long jump with a top distance of 20 feet, 0.25 inches. She became only the third woman in program history to jump over 20 feet in the event. The following day, the senior finished third in the triple jump, posting a mark of 40 feet, 8.75 inches. By the time Jensen soared to third in NDSU women’s triple jump history, the Bison had the title wrapped up. In total, Jensen took the top step on eight occasions during the indoor season.

The last quarter of an inch in her long jump won Jensen a bet with Pritchard. “He even shaved his legs for me because we had a bet going. He said ‘If you go over 20 feet, I’ll shave my legs.’ So he’s been wearing shorts for the past few days.”

The outdoor season presents one final opportunity for Jensen to one-up her numbers from the indoor season. “My goals were 20 and 40 feet, but now since I got that I really want to get 41 feet and 21 feet,” she explained. “That would be amazing, and I think if I get some help from the wind it’s possible.”

A variety of factors are in play during the outdoor season that can negatively impact performance such as increased travel constraints. Plane trips and increased travel miles can increase fatigue, requiring athletes to ratchet up their focus. The wind, though, can give Jensen the boost she needs to reach the figures for which she aims. “It makes such a difference. You feel like you’re flying,” she said of the wind’s impact on her jumps.

Jensen has embraced the senior leadership role that is demanded of an accomplished athlete, earning her a new nickname from her teammates. “They call me grandma actually. I’m old and I watch over them; they’re my little ducklings. I take care of them and I make sure they’re doing everything OK,” she said.

Carrying the torch for the Bison track and field program is important to Jensen, who explained that she takes it upon herself to keep up the winning tradition and make her coaches proud. Planning to stay in the Fargo area, she hopes to still remain active with the track and field team after graduation. “I’m going to show up for team dinners whether they invite me or not. I’ll probably pop around practice too just because you make such good friendships with the girls in your group,” she commented. Jensen envisions a volunteer coaching role as well.

Reaching the twilight of her time as a Bison, Piper Jensen is ready to attack one last season and make good on her promise of delivering number 11.

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