University of Chicago junior Isabel Maletich’s long-awaited return to the NCAA Division III women’s outdoor track and field championships May 27 and 29 came with an additional challenge.
The Downers Grove North graduate is editing the annual team nationals video with footage to and from Greensboro, North Carolina, and using the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believing.”
“The entire team can do it together. It’s a time to get to know each other and just have fun,” Maletich said. “It’s really silly and kind of ridiculous but something we all enjoy.”
The video should turn out great.
Maletich has a knack for rising to the occasion for championship events. This was her greatest effort so far.
Maletich won triple jump with an outdoor school record 12.38 meters (40 feet, 7 1/2 inches) on her final attempt. Two days earlier, she won long jump at 5.88 meters (19-3 1/2) after qualifying for nationals in her final regular-season meet.
Maletich added to her 2019 indoor national title in long jump (19-4 3/4). She is 6-for-6 in All-American finishes (top eight) at her three outdoor or indoor nationals in the two events.
“It was a great end to a not very great year in terms of disruptions and COVID,” Maletich said. “Nothing came as unexpected and exciting as winning as a freshman. I wanted to be an All-American. It wasn’t even in the realm of possibilities for me to win. [This year,] I knew it was a possibility, and if I have a great day, I can be in contention for titles in long or triple. It was something I wanted to do but I wasn’t banking on it at all.”
These were the first NCAA Division III track and field nationals since 2019 outdoors, when Maletich was second in long jump with a school record (19-9). In March 2020, Maletich and the Maroons already had arrived for indoor nationals in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, when the event – and ultimately the outdoor season – were abruptly canceled by the pandemic. Maletich’s 41-3 1/4 triple jump indoors that season is the school record.
The 2021 indoors nationals March 11-12 in Geneva, Ohio, also was canceled. In early April, Maletich experienced stomach pains and momentarily feared she had contracted the coronavirus.
It was food poisoning.
“We were not even sure we’d do [outdoor] nationals. It was a great meet, winning or not. We’re just happy to have had it,” Maletich said. “It was a very hard season. No field house, no access to the weight room and our campus was shut down in the middle of the season. And I had some hip issues.”
Nothing fazed Maletich at nationals.
Maletich won long jump by 3 3/4 inches on the last of her three preliminary attempts. In triple jump, she scratched her first two attempts but then went 12.15 meters to advance to the finals in second place behind John Carroll’s Courtney Phoennik (12.28 meters).
On her last jump in the finals, Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Kady Kochendorfer (12.29) went from third to first. While Kochendorfer and her teammates still were celebrating, Maletich, without hesitation in her final attempt, jumped from third to first (12.38). Maletich and jumps coach Justin McQuality then had to watch Phoennik’s final attempt. Phoennik improved to 12.31 but had to settle for second.
“It makes the victory feel a little bit sweeter to know I worked for it. It’s definitely memorable because I haven’t won a triple jump title at the national or state level,” Maletich said. “I normally get very quiet when I compete. I don’t know why I started my approach while the Eau Claire team was still cheering. I guess I block people out when I’m competing. I do well under pressure generally. I think that’s why I tend to do well at bigger meets.”
“With her, I’ve always said there are two types of athletes at national meets,” McQuality said. “She goes into those moments and feels the most comfortable. I think I was more nervous than she was.”
Maletich became the fourth woman in NCAA Division III finals history to sweep long and triple jump. Her 2019 indoor long jump championship came after an appendectomy.
“[These titles weren’t] quite as unexpected but it made me feel like all of the trials and tribulations from COVID and limited access to the facilities made it all worth it,” Maletich said. “I feel like I haven’t had a normal college season. I really realized how tough the entire team was. I learned a lot about my ability to persevere.”