Range runners Rowe, Mazurek, Palmeter find success in college
By PAT KRAUSE
Some area coaches have said there have been times when graduating seniors who were good players for them would make comments that they were good high school athletes, but they didn’t think they could ever play at the college level.
Recently, three young athletes from our area have shattered that stereotype and even thrived in the college athletic environment.
Valerie Rowe and Zack Mazurek of Bessemer and Ironwood native Hannah Palmeter recently sat down with The Daily Globe and talked about their high school athletic careers and making the transition to college athletics.
Rowe was a pretty good track and field athlete in her first three years of high school but had a break-out senior year. And what a break-out it was.
During the regular track season, she won nearly every event she entered and set school records in the pole vault (9-6) and the 300 meter hurdles.
At the U.P. Finals, competing against the best track and field athletes in the Upper Peninsula, Rowe finished first in the 100 and 300 meter hurdles and took second in the 200 meter dash. She also added a third place finish in the pole vault.
Rowe said her new-found success came down to hard work.
“I started running more in the summer before my senior year and I lifted weights,” Rowe said. “It changed me physically and mentally. At UW-Superior, I definitely work hard at practice, because I know I definitely will get better. Hard work does get results.”
Zack Mazurek was exactly the type of athlete a small high school like Bessemer needed. That is an athlete who will participate in multiple sports and be a top-notch performer.
At the U.P. cross country finals, Mazurek ran as an individual and finished fourth, second and fourth in his three years of competing.
In track and field, Mazurek finished first each year of high school at the regional meet in the mile, 2 mile and 2 mile relay. At the U.P. Finals his senior year, he ran the anchor leg of his 3,200 meter relay team and the Speedboys took home the gold.
Like Rowe, Mazurek really came on in his senior year in basketball. He could be a deadly shooter and he was Bessemer’s leading 3-point shooter in grades 10-12. He was also a team captain and was named to the All-PMC First Team and the All-Indianhead Conference Second Team.
“I loved my senior year and all my hard work came together and paid off,” Mazurek said. “I loved the thrill and the atmosphere of playing in front of a big crowd on a cold, winter night. All their support meant a lot and I loved representing our town.”
For Palmeter, her high school track career might have been titled, “What might have been.”
People who knew her well said she was born to run and Palmeter said she loved to run.
“She was doing extremely well by the end of her junior year,” Ironwood track coach Ted Sim said. “She could fly. She’s probably the best middle distance runner we’ve had since Anne Sommerville. In her senior season, we felt she had a real good chance to break Sommerville’s record (in the 800 meter run).”
Sommerville went on to run cross country and track and field at Michigan State University and any record she set is looked upon like the Holy Grail in the Ironwood track program.
Sommerville’s 800 meter record is 2:21 and Palmeter got her 800 time down to 2:25 when she became a U.P. champion at the end of her junior year.
But as Sim said, everything has to go right to set a record. In Palmeter’s case, it didn’t.
“When Hannah came out her senior year, she had dropped weight and wasn’t herself,” Sim said. “She didn’t look healthy.”
Palmeter said that people thought she had some type of injury, but she really was anemic.
“There wasn’t enough red blood cells getting to my muscles,” Palmeter said. “And I had low blood sugars.”
Palmeter had to shut down her senior track season except for one meet. The quest for the 800 meter record had ended.
But Palmeter, as well as Mazurek and Rowe, are not the types to let setbacks keep them down.
For awhile, Palmeter said she was very committed to entering the Air Force.
“I didn’t think I could run in college and NIACC was the only school that recruited me,” Palmeter said. “Their head coach drove from Iowa to Ironwood and we talked for three hours. In Iowa, things got better each meet and every meet I’ve improved.
“I think the biggest transition from high school sports to college athletics is the time commitment. There’s lots of training and weight-lifting and eating right is stressed. The all-around competition is more intense, too, but I’ve gotten to know a lot of great people.”
After junior college, Palmeter was recruited much more heavily than the first time and chose to enroll at Southwest Minnesota State.
She ran the 800 meter run in 2:15.44 in 2014 and was named the NJCAA USTFCCCA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Women’s Track Athlete of the Year in the Midwest Region.
Palmeter is coming back next year for what she called her super senior season.
She has also won the last three Bessemer Hometown Runs.
Mazurek’s high school track career ended at the 2015 U.P. Finals when he suffered a badly-bruised tendon in his foot. After rest and strengthening it through physical therapy, Mazurek was ready to start his college cross country and track career at UW-Superior.
“My freshman year was average,” Mazurek said. “In my first race, I finished fourth from last place. I thought this will be tough and I’m going to really have to put in the miles.
“But in my sophomore year, cross country went real well and I was getting a lot of personal bests in indoor track. I’m training better and learning a lot from the older guys on the team. I’ve learned the mental part of running in college is huge. As a team, we won the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference. I’m getting another chance to run and compete at a higher level. But it’s a big adjustment, too.”
One big adjustment for Mazurek is he has had to learn to run the 3000 meter Steeplechase event.
“It’s become my favorite event in track,” he said. “It’s almost like learning how to hurdle doing a distance race.”
Mazurek was also selected as the Most Improved Runner after his sophomore year in cross country.
At UW-Superior, Rowe continues to use her formula for success that hard work produces results. She already holds the indoor 200 meter hurdle record and her personality helped her attain the Indoor UMAC Sportsmanship Award.
At the first indoor track meet this year, Rowe got her personal best times in the 60 meter hurdles, the pole vault and the 200 meter dash.
In last year’s Outdoor Track and Field Championship, she finished second in the 400 meter hurdles, third in the pole vault and fifth in the 100 meter hurdles.
Rowe said instead of waiting for the college transition to come to here, she chose to meet it head on.
“For me the transition from high school sports to college sports was easy,” Rowe said. “I think the key to transitioning was not being afraid to be outgoing and talkative with your team. That way you develop good relationships with your teammates right away.
“My favorite part of college athletics is my team. All my really good friends are on the team and my team has become my family. I know no matter what, my team will always have my back and I will have theirs.”