Baker earns CCIW honor

North Central College sophomore Lina Baker is a hammer thrower.

When the Prairie Ridge graduate meets new people, though, they’re not so sure the 5-foot-5, 125-pound Baker tosses a shot put attached to a metal cable.

“I’ve had to convince some people,” said Baker, who often is told she should be a multi-event competitor such as a pentathlete. “They say I don’t look like a thrower. … I was talking to our university president (Troy D. Hammond) and he asked what sport I did. I told him that I was a hammer thrower, and he said, ‘You’d be a good multi.’ ”

Although Baker’s stature may not be convincing, her results this season have been.

On Tuesday, she was named the NCAA Division III College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin’s Field Event Athlete of the Week after winning the event with a throw of 150 feet, 10 inches April 12 at the Wheaton College Quad meet.

Baker’s winning effort was two inches shy of her career-best 151-0 throw a week earlier in the Chicagoland Championships at Lewis University, which set a school record. 

She owns the top throw this season in the CCIW and ranks 35th in the nation in the event.

As a high school senior, Baker was convinced that she would be a pole vaulter.

“I picked that up pretty quickly,” she said. “When I came here, I said I wanted to do pole vault.”

North Central coaches steered her toward the hammer instead.

A new coach on staff this season, Sean Denard, has fueled Baker’s passion for the event. 

“He never threw the hammer,” she said of Denard, a nine-time national qualifier at D-III Mount Union College in Ohio in the shot put and discus. “But he has put in hours watching videos. He’s sent emails to top hammer throwers asking for tips. … I’m very appreciative. I tell him, ‘You’re the best.’ ”

While Baker credits the coaching staff for her success, she also admits she has put in plenty of her own time.

With any new event, “you’ve got to spend the time on it,” she said. “That’s a really big thing.”

Baker said she picked up the event fairly quickly last season and finished 10th in the CCIW outdoor meet.

“I always knew I was a hard worker,” she said. “I’ll bust my butt for things. …I’ve spent hours and weeks just on turns.”

Baker said she also feels more physically prepared this season thanks to Denard’s grueling, personally designed workouts.

“He trains you in peaks and valleys,” said Baker, who did not want to discuss specifics of Denard’s workouts. “It really tests you.”

Baker hopes her distances continue to climb so that she can qualify for next month’s national meet in LaCrosse, Wis.

“I’ve thrown 155 (feet) in practice, and that was on a day when I was sick,” she said. “If I throw (160 feet), I’d be ecstatic.”

Davenport ace: Huntley grad Zach Liebman, a senior pitcher at Michigan’s NAIA Davenport University, is 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA this season for the Panthers (24-12).

Liebman, a right-hander, had a career-high 10 strikeouts Sunday, including five in a row, while allowing five hits in five innings in an 8-4 victory against Saint Xavier. The effort earned Liebman the school’s Athlete of the Week award on its website, DUPanthers.com.

For the season, Liebman has 19 strikeouts in 182/3 innings.

Carthage standout: Jacobs grad Donnie Langland, a senior at D-III Carthage College, was named the CCIW Men’s Golfer of the Week on Tuesday.

Langland won the honor after he earned the individual title in the Marian (Wis.) Invitational by shooting 67-70—137 in the two-day event. Last week, he placed third in the Augustana Invitiational with a two-round score of 77-71—148. Langland’s total was one shot off the winning score.

For the season, Langland owns a team-best 72.3 scoring average to go along with 10 top-five finishes.

Beloit’s best: Ryan Kaveney, a freshman baseball pitcher at D-III Beloit College, is the top starter for the Bucs this season with a 2-1 record and a team-best 2.27 ERA.

Kaveney, a Cary-Grove grad, allowed one hit and struck out eight over seven innings in a 7-0 win April 13 against Lawrence.

Kaveney ranks third in the Midwest Conference in strikeouts (29) and opponents’ batting average (.207).

Senior outfielder Will Mack (Prairie Ridge) is batting .340 this season for the Bucs (7-11). He is second on the team with 18 hits and a .419 on-base percentage.

Speaker joins Iowa volleyball: Marian Central grad Tanja Speaker has joined the University of Iowa women’s volleyball staff as its interim director of volleyball operations.

Speaker, who played college basketball at D-II Florida Southern College, recently worked as a game operations assistant for the Texas Stars hockey team and as a front desk agent at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center in Austin, Texas.

• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column and a blog about local college athlete for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com, check out his On Campus blog at McHenryCountySports.com and follow him@BarryOnCampus on Twitter.

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