Erin Herrmann glanced at the video screen as she sprinted toward the finish line. It wasn’t until the final few strides of the 3,000-meter steeplechase that she realized her goal of becoming a national champion for Hope College would be accomplished.
The senior from Wheaton, Illinois (Wheaton-Warrenville South HS) ran away from the field at Saturday’s NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field Championships to claim the steeplechase title with a school-record time of 10 minutes, 21.08 seconds.
Herrmann finished seven seconds ahead of the nearest competitor en route to the ninth-fastest time in Division III history.
“I’m pretty much on cloud nine right now,” Herrmann said in a phone interview on her way back from the meet at SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio. “It’s a huge blessing.”
Herrmann’s first-place finish — along with an eighth-place, All-America finish in the heptathlon from junior Alison Rich of Haslett, Michigan (Haslett) — powered the Flying Dutch to a tie for 24th place with 11 points.
The top-seeded Herrmann beat her old personal steeplechase best by six seconds. She claimed her second All-America honors of the school year. She was All-America in cross country after a fourth-place finish last fall.
Herrmann joined Nora Kuiper as Flying Dutch national champions in women’s track & field. Kuiper won the 2009 NCAA 100-meter title.
In three outdoor track & field seasons, Herrmann went from a national qualifier who didn’t make out of preliminaries to a national runner-up to a national champion.
Herrmann dropped more than a minute from her time as a freshman. It is an impressive feat, assistant track & field coach and head cross country coach Mark Northuis.
“She showed what hard work and focus can do when you set your goals,” Northuis said. “She was able to be laser-focused with everything else she does. She compartmentalized what she wanted to do on the track and got it done.
“She is one of the most decorated athletes at Hope. To be able to finish your career on top, not too many people get a chance to do that.”
Herrmann is the second Hope athlete to claim an individual national title this spring. Golfer Josh Gibson won the Division III title in a one-hole playoff on May 19 in Howie-in-the-Hills, Florida.
Herrmann also finished 11th in the 5,000-meter final in her second race Saturday afternoon.
Herrmann said her national runner-up finish last season as a junior motivated her throughout the various challenges she faced in and out of both training and competition this school year.
“At the time when I got second, I was really upset about it. When you come that close to being at the top, it’s tough,” Herrmann said. “I think it pushed me. That disappointment I felt carried me through all of my training for cross country and track seasons. Every time I would start to get tired and think maybe I won’t do this set or take it easy during this workout, I would think of that moment and it would push me.
“All that hard work allowed me to reach my goal. It’s absolutely amazing.”
On Saturday, Herrmann followed the game plan she and Northuis put together for her final steeplechase race.
She did not worry about taking the lead during a first lap that she expected would go out quick.
“Erin gradually turned up the heat as the race went on,” Northuis said. “We knew it was going to be a four- or five-person race after the first couple of laps. She just gained confidence as the race went on. She ran about the time we thought she could win. She raced the whole plan perfectly.”
Herrmann pulled away late from Alison Lindsay of Washington-St. Louis, who clocked a run of 10:28.52.
“With 800 to go, I was still neck and neck with Alison. I wasn’t sure what the outcome was going to be,” Herrmann said. “I just had a rush of confidence in my strength and my training. That’s when I started to push and break away. I think with about 200 meters to go, I look over at the video screen and could see she wasn’t right behind me. At that moment, I thought ‘I’m going to do this!’”