October 10, 2008

Baker excels at UND cross country, track

Baker excels at UND cross country, track

When New Town’s Natika Baker went out for her first real run many years ago, she asked her dad to come along.
Since that very first outing, when Natika was in elementary school, Jarret Baker, has been pushing his daughter to be the best she can be. His encouragement, along with the support of her mother Kerry Baker and three brothers, has helped Natika put on many miles since that first run. She is currently in her third year competing in cross country and track for the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. Last season Baker achieved one of her career highlights by competing at the NCAA Division II Women’s Cross Country Championship meet.

"It was one of the best experiences ever. It is almost unexplainable to try to describe what it was like to be with the elite. ... For me to be in that category - a national competition for the NCAA ... I never imagined it when I was running in high school or middle school for New Town," Baker said in a phone interview.
Unfortunately, it will likely be Baker’s final opportunity to compete at that level. UND is in the process of moving up to the NCAA Div. I level and, thanks to a transitional system, the squad will not be eligible for nationals the next few years.
However, Baker said she is still enjoying the competition and looking forward to the new places the move to NCAA Division I could take her to compete. She noted the squad is focused on a good showing at the Great West Conference Championship in Orem, Utah on Nov. 1. UND has had a successful start to the season with two victories in its first pair of meets. Baker placed 28th and 25th in those events.
When asked about Baker’s success, UND head women’s track and field and cross country coach Dick Clay praised her work ethic and attitude.

"She is very coachable. She does the things that she needs to do. ... She is always positive about things," he said in a phone interview. "I think that is where her success has come and where it will continue to come."
Meanwhile, Baker is quick to point to the people who have supported her, especially her father, a former Minot State University runner.
"My dad is the one who always keeps me going and always pushes me," she said. "He knew I had something special."
Jarret Baker was certainly right. Not long after their first outing together she earned a spot at a national AAU competition in Florida in fourth grade. Baker cracked the New Town varsity track and cross country squads as a seventh grader and never looked back. She graduated in 2006 after being named All-State five times in cross-country and earning nine individual All-State honors in track, according to the UND sports information department. She also helped her team to a 2003 state cross country title and earned four letters in basketball.
Her success has continued at UND. As a freshman she placed 35th at the North Central Conference meet and was part of the NCC championship squad. Last season, Baker improved her placing at the NCC meet to 26th.
She has also proven to be a versatile member of the Fighting Sioux track team. Last season Baker helped the 4x400-meter team to a seventh place finish at the NCC meet. In high school, Baker earned All-State honors in track in the 400 through the 3,2000-meter run. While her focus is a little bit narrower in college, Baker still tackles a variety of events. During the indoor season she has run the 800, 1,000 and 1,500 as well as the relay, while outdoors she usually competed in the 800 and 1,500.


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