May 13, 2009
By Larry Watts
With a name like Becca Buchholtz and the fact she is from Wisconsin, it would be too easy for her Michigan State women's track teammates to hang a nickname on her like "Bucky."
"I draw the line there," says the 5-foot-10 freshman from East Troy, Wis. "Thank goodness they didn't do that because Bucky is my dad's nickname.
"But I really would like a nickname. Sometimes people call me 'Cheese Head,' which is really annoying because we're not really cheese heads in Wisconsin. They make fun of the fact Future Farmers of America was the biggest club at my high school and my accent. They like to say 'Hey der Becca."'
Although she lacks a nickname, Buchholtz certainly likes the idea of being called Big Ten champion. She accomplished that feat when she cleared 5-10.5 in the high jump during the Big Ten Indoor Championships in March.
Not a bad debut for someone who had never heard of Michigan State until the summer before her senior year of high school.
"I was looking at Wisconsin and Minnesota," says the former three-time state champion in the long jump and two-time champ in the triple jump. "Then one day (assistant) coach (Chris) Bostwick gave me a call and asked me to come visit Michigan State.
"To be honest I wasn't that familiar with the Big Ten and I had never heard of Michigan State. I knew there were two schools in Michigan, but I didn't know what they were called. I knew there were two schools in Indiana and one of them was not called University of Indiana. I know that sounds bad."
So the first visit on her shopping list was Michigan State. Then it was off to Drake, Minnesota and Wisconsin, three schools more known for their prowess in women's track. Although she had attended high jump camp at Minnesota and her sister Rachel was at Wisconsin, her choice in the end was the school she had never heard of.
"I came over for a Sunday-Monday visit, didn't even go to a football game," she says. "I checked out the academics, took a tour of the campus and absolutely loved it."
Not only was Buchholtz being recruited as a jumper, but Bostwick and head coach Walt Drenth also wanted her to be a pentathlete/heptathlete for the Spartans. The high jump and long jump would be no problem while she ran hurdles in her conference meet and had done shot once in a jayvee meet, but the 800 was another story.
"My mother and I just laughed when they told me I would have to do the 800," she says. "I told them I would give it my best shot, but that 800 just doesn't come naturally to me. I'm going to keep working at it though.
"I think it would get boring if I was only a high jumper. Those other events keep me entertained."
Making the adjustment to life at Michigan State was not an easy one at first. Buchholtz, who has two older sisters and one age 10, got severely homesick during her first month in East Lansing.
"I was from a town of 4,000 where everyone knew everyone and now I was at a school with over 45,000 students," she says. "My mother and I are especially close; I still call her several times a day. My sister Danielle got deployed to Iraq, so I was missing out on a lot of family things.
"But the adjustment has been a good one and I couldn't be happier now. I can go for long stretches without seeing my family, but I do miss those home-cooked meals, even if the food is good here."
To say Buchholtz is a rising star in the Michigan State program would accurate in more ways than one. As a freshman in high school, she measured 5-6, but she has been growing at an average of nearly an inch a year ever since.
"I'm the tallest one in my family," she says of her father, mother and three sisters. "I've already grown an inch since last year. I've grown out of most of my clothes because of this spurt and the weight program at Michigan State. All of my shirts got really tight in the biceps."
Never much of a weight lifter in high school, Buchholtz estimates she has doubled all of her lifts since last summer.
"I love lifting," she says. "It's now one of my favorite parts of practice, that and jumping."
Although she had posted the Spartans' top scores in the pentathlon during the indoor campaign, the coaching staff elected to hold her out of the multiple events so she could concentrate on the high jump as the Big Ten meet grew closer. After holding at 5-7 most of the season, she finally cleared 5-8.75 (NCAA provisional qualifying height) two weeks before the Big Ten meet. Then at the Big Ten meet, she cleared every height on the first attempt before topping out at 5-10.5.
"At the Big Ten meet, the high jump competition for men and women was held in two different arenas, so coach Bostwick went with the guys because they are more needy and coach (Melanie) Rhoden stayed with me," she says. "I had been entering the meets at 5-5, but she told me to jump at 5-3 and just use it as a warmup. I nearly made it at 5-11.5, but it was one of those things where the bar came down just as I landed. It might have stayed up there on another day; it was that close."
At virtually the same time Buchholtz was clearing her winning height, fellow freshman Beth Rohl was uncorking her winning throw in the shot put. Together they became the first Michigan State freshmen to ever win a Big Ten title.
"The high jump and shot put were tested at opposite ends of the track on the first day and coach Drenth was sitting there right in the middle watching both events," Buchholtz says. "To become the first true freshmen to win Big Ten titles and to do it at basically the same time was really cool. We ran up to each other and gave big hugs."
Other than an occasional performance in one of the other events, Buchholtz has not tried the heptathlon and has been focused mainly on the high jump since moving outdoors. However, she has been frozen at 5-7 and this weekend's Big Ten Outdoor Championships will be her final chance to meet the 5-8.75 qualifying height for the NCAA Mideast Regional.
"I've been so close to 5-9 in every meet; it's not like I'm ramming into the bar," she says. "It's always been some little thing keeping me from making the height. I actually feel stronger and have more endurance because of all the weight training I've done here.
"I try not to think about just that number (qualifying height). My goal is actually to go I higher; I think I can go over six feet.
"If I don't get it done at Big Tens, then my personal belief is I don't deserve it," she adds. "I'll be upset if I don't make it, but I usually perform well in big meets. It's championship season now and time to get into my zone. I really feel as though this is the calm before the storm."
Whatever fate lies ahead for the talented freshman, Buchholtz believes this season has been a big turning point for Michigan State women's track.
"I think what we have been doing here is the foundation for something really cool," she says. "This is a really big freshman recruiting class and everyone is buying into the program right now and talking about where the program is going. We really trust these coaches to take us there."