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March 5, 2013

Despite four NCAA Division III titles, Rose-Hulman’s Liz Evans remains as driven as ever

TERRE HAUTE — Even though Rose-Hulman senior Liz Evans has won four NCAA Division III titles in the women’s high jump, getting motivated is still easy for her.

Ultra-competitive athletes find ways.

With the 2013 Division III indoor track and field championships coming this weekend in Naperville, Ill., Evans is favored to capture her third indoor crown and fifth overall.

At a meet at Stevens Point, Wis., she tied a season best with a leap of 5-feet-10 to place first. The weekend before at Anderson, she cleared 5-93⁄4 and barely missed at 5-103⁄4, so she appears to be hitting her stride.

In comparison, Evans won the 2012 indoor nationals at Grinnell, Iowa, with a successful attempt at 5-101⁄2. As a sophomore in 2011 at Columbus, Ohio, she needed only 5-73⁄4 to secure the indoor victory.

Soon after that 2011 win — her first on a national level — Evans told the Tribune-Star for the first time that she thought winning six national titles was realistic.

She hasn’t done anything since then to indicate it’s not.

Evans and her coaches think 5-11 or higher is possible this time and that’s one source of her motivation.

“That’s my goal for the national meet — to jump a 1.81 [meters, which can be converted to 5-11 1/4],” the 2009 North Knox High School graduate admitted over the weekend.

“Right now, she sits sixth on

“Right now, she sits sixth on the all-time Division III indoor list at 5-101⁄2,” Rose assistant coach Matt Cole pointed out. “Clearing 6-0 would tie the all-time Division III mark.”

Rest assured, there are other sources of motivation for Evans.

For example, a fifth straight women’s high jump triumph Saturday would give her the Division III record for most in a row.

Possibly working in Evans’ favor will be the absence of one of her long-time toughest competitors, Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Shelby Demos, who decided not to go out for indoor track this season.

Evans also realizes she’s received six Division III All-America honors (counting her two runner-up finishes in the women’s high jump as a freshman in 2010) — one shy of recent Rose-Hulman graduate and her friend Sutton Coleman for No. 1 on the school’s all-time list. So if she earns two more All-America honors (which would require a top-eight finish in the indoor and outdoor nationals), she’ll move ahead of Coleman by one.

Oh yeah, there’s one more reason that Evans will try her hardest Saturday and it’s the most basic of all.

“I love jumping,” she emphasized. “It’s by far the best thing in the world for me. It’s not hard to come to practice every day. It’s not hard to go to a meet and compete. It’s what I love doing.”

Evans loves the sport so much that she wants to continue to compete after she graduates with degrees in electrical engineering and mathematics in May. She may even make a run at representing the United States in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

If you think that’s crazy talk for a Division III athlete, think again.

Evans’ 5-101⁄2 at last year’s indoor nationals would have placed a respectable eighth in the Division I championships.

Matt Cole and his father, Rose head track coach Larry Cole, said several DIII athletes have competed and fared well in past Olympics, including former gold-medal hurdler Edwin Moses.

“If I keep progressing every single year, I think I have a pretty good shot at it,” Evans said. “But I’ve just got to keep working hard and we’ll see what happens.”

“She trains like a Division I athlete in a Division III environment,” Larry Cole noted, adding that the 5-foot-8, 125-pound Evans is stronger than she appears in street clothes.

“Over the summer, I spent a lot of time working very hard at getting stronger,” she acknowledged.

“She can take on most of the guys on our team [in the weight room] right now,” Larry Cole continued. “That strength has really helped her, not only in her performances, but also with rehabilitating injuries.”

The elder Cole said confidence, almost to the point of arrogance, has developed into another plus for Evans.

“She knows she’s good,” he explained. “She walks into that competition and she knows she’s going to win, plain and simple. She knows when she walks into that building to go against other Division III kids, she’s going to win, and she focuses on that.”

Following the Division III indoor championships this weekend, Matt Cole plans for Evans to take about two weeks “to go back to the basics and really hit the weights hard again” before diving into the outdoor season.

The Engineers’ outdoor season will begin March 23 with the Rose-Hulman Early Bird Invitational.

After that will be the Purdue Invitational on March 30.

“Matt’s taken her to some big-time [indoor] meets,” Larry Cole said. “Last month, they went down to Indiana University and jumped against all Division I competition. … We go to Purdue with her. We go to IU with her.”

Although Evans enjoys racking up individual accomplishments, she’s not above helping out the Rose women’s team as often as possible.

For the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference indoor championships, which took place Feb. 16 at Defiance, Ohio, she did what she was supposed to do by winning the high jump (5-9 1/4). But she also won the long jump (17-10 3/4), placed second in the 60-meter dash (8.12 seconds) and placed third in the triple jump (34-5 3/4) as the female Engineers came in second behind Hanover.

Despite Evans’ unprecedented run of success, most of the attention on Rose-Hulman athletics recently has been on its men’s basketball team, which qualified for the Division III tournament for the second straight year in 2013.

Not the slightest bit jealous, Evans found time to root for coach Jim Shaw’s Engineers in person during the HCAC tournament in Hulbert Arena as they defeated Defiance in the semifinals Feb. 22.

She said she would have attended the Feb. 23 HCAC championship game against Hanover, but she had to miss it because of that track meet in Anderson. Then she was forced to miss Rose’s DIII tourney loss to Calvin on Saturday because she was traveling back from that meet in Wisconsin.

“I’m fine with the basketball team getting attention,” Evans insisted, adding that basketball standout Nate Gissentanner has been a lab partner of hers in past classes.

“A lot of my friends are in different sports on campus … It’s a small community here. Everyone knows everyone, it seems.”

Before she graduates, everyone on the engineering institute’s campus is likely to know Evans as arguably the greatest athlete — male or female — in Rose-Hulman history.

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