BEREA, Ohio -- Erin Kasper’s collegiate track-and-field career did not have the best start, but after a change of venue, the junior sure has found a home at Baldwin Wallace University, a place where she has grown into a champion athlete for the Yellow Jackets.
A Division III All-American at the NCAA Championship Meet last weekend, Kasper was one of three athletes to represent BW and helped the Yellow Jackets with a National Championship, a first for the program and just the second ever for the school.
“It’s something I’m very proud to be a part of,” said Kasper, a native of Amherst and graduate of Marion L. Steele High School. “I really admire my teammates very much. Everyone puts the work in every day, and it’s something that I think we can all be proud of as a group.
“Knowing what kind of athletes we had going in, it’s something that we talked about, that it might happen. We all definitely had the capability of scoring points, but I think even then, we were all surprised that it actually did happen, that things went so right for them.”
Kasper’s journey to the podium at the Bear Recreation and Athletic Center in Grinnell, Iowa, was a winding one.
After starting her career at Ashland University and missing all of what would have been her freshman year, Kasper transferred to Baldwin Wallace and began the long road back to success in track and field.
During the 2015 season, Kasper earned her first varsity letter at BW by setting personal records in 10 competitions, including the high and triple jumps at indoor competitions, and then, the 200-meter sprint, 100-meter hurdles, high, long and triple jumps, javelin, shot put and heptathlon at outdoor meets.
“I was at another program my freshman year, and things didn’t really work out,” Kasper said of Ashland. “I was very unhappy there. I ended up leaving that team in January of my freshman year, so that semester of my freshman year, I wasn’t on a team. It was very hard on me, so I wasn’t training because it was just very hard on me mentally too. Then, I did get injured, so coming back my sophomore year, I wasn’t in very good shape, but had to train very hard to kind of get back to where I left off basically.
“I knew a lot of people who went here, actually. I was like, ‘Well, if people like me liked this school, then maybe I will.’ My sister went here and she was a part of this track program, and I know it’s an experience that she enjoyed very much, so when that first school didn’t work out, it was kind of a no-brainer, snap decision, ‘Come to BW.’”
Kasper entered the 2016 indoor season hungry for more success, and quickly proved it, as she earned Ohio Athletic Conference Indoor Field Athlete of the Week on January 25th, and was an All-OAC performer with a third-place finish in the high jump at the league meet.
In addition, Kasper set personal bests in the high, long and triple jumps during the indoor season, and in the Last-Chance Meet at Ohio Northern University, she earned her spot in the NCAA National Championship Meet in the high jump.
At the National Championship Meet, Kasper earned All-American status by placing sixth in the high jump.
“Erin has worked very, very hard, and all year, looked like she could get to that level,” sprints/jumps coach Todd Swisher said. “Meet after meet, would just come up a little bit short, and just kept working hard. The weekend before, she hit the qualifying mark. We got there and Coach Cole and I about what the point split might be and where the bar might be when people scored and if people wouldn’t score. Erin just did a great thing. She went clean all the way through until she was out, and that was the difference.
“She jumped great, competed really, really strongly for her first time at the national meet. A lot of times, people go to the national meet for the first time and don’t do very well because it’s such a big stage and they put a lot of pressure on themselves, but she just came out and performed great.”
Head coach Matt Cole added, “Her performance in the national meet was unlike anybody that I’ve experienced as a first-timer in a vertical event like the high jump. Her first three clearances were all clean clears. She had no misses going into the best bar that she had cleared to make the meet. It was an outstanding performance by her.”
An All-American for the first time in her career, Kasper is expecting to carry momentum over to the outdoor schedule in order to help the Yellow Jackets build upon what was a memorable championship run during the indoor season.
“That’s definitely a great feeling,” Kasper said. “My college career got off to kind of a rough start, so since then, it’s kind of been working to get back to where I was, and I’m glad to finally be back at that level and that I was able to be an All-American.
“I think these last few weeks, finally getting back to things that I know I’m capable of definitely gives me a little more confidence going into outdoor season. I’m definitely feeling in much better shape than last year. I’m in much happier place than in the last couple years, so I think something pretty good might be able to happen this outdoor season.”