By Chris O'Donnell
---- — Last Friday, Newbury’s Deanna Latham proved she is the best female athlete in the Big 10 Conference. In two weeks, she wants to prove she’s the best in the country.
Latham, a junior at the University of Wisconsin, won the pentathlon — which includes the 60-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump and 800 meters — Friday at the Big 10 Conference Indoor Track and Field Championship.
She said winning the Big 10 title still hasn’t sunk in, which is likely a good thing given that since her next meet is the NCAA Championship March 14-15 in Albuquerque, N.M., there is little, if any, time to think about it.
“It’s a little surreal right now,” Latham said. “I’m still waiting for it to hit me.”
Latham compiled a career-best 4,176 points in a tight race to edge Jess Herauf of Minnesota (4,054), Anne Martin of Nebraska (3,998) and Brittney Howell of Penn State (3,997), who trailed Latham by 11 points going into the last event. Points are given based on the results of each event.
The pentathlon (indoor) and heptathlon (outdoor) titles had previously eluded Latham: She has finished in third place three times — once when she was seeded first — and fourth place last year.
“The biggest thing with multi-athletes is being solid and consistent,” she said. “You don’t have to set a PR (personal record) in every event. I only PR’d in one event and was consistent in all the others. I did all I needed to do to win.”
Latham opened the pentathlon in the 60-meter hurdles and placed second in 8.37 seconds. She then tied for first in the high jump, clearing 5- 7 to match her personal best.
“Those are probably the two most nerve-racking events because a lot can go right and a lot can go wrong,” Latham said. “You can take three bad attempts in the high jump or nick a hurdle and your day is finished. After that I just played it safe.”
She then placed sixth in the shot put, admittedly her weakest event, with a toss of 37 feet, 10.75 inches, which was her best throw of the season. She followed with a leap of 19-2 in the long jump.
In her final event, the 800 meters, she needed to finish better than 2:22.90 to maintain her lead. Right away, she found herself boxed out by four or five runners, but countered by sprinting around the outside for about 100 yards to return to the lead pack and finish third in 2:18.54.
“I was in eighth off the line,” Latham said. “Everyone got out a lot faster than I anticipated. I ended up sprinting about 100 yards and passing seven or eight women. But I kind of died in the last straightaway. I was happy considering the unfortunate start.”
Latham’s championship has been in the making since she first arrived on campus at Madison. Her title marks the fifth straight year UW has taken home the pentathlon at the Big-10, and, in a post-championship interview viewable on the UW athletics website, she was not lost on the role her former teammates Jessica Flax (the 2013 champion) and Dorcas Akinniyi (2012) played in Friday’s milestone.
“I think they would be very proud of me,” she said.
Latham’s result is currently fifth among Division I pentathletes. Only 282 points separates her and No. 1 seed Erica Bougard of Mississippi.
After the NCAAs, Latham can finally take a breath. She will redshirt the 2014 outdoor season, meaning she will compete as an independent not representing UW, which is allowed by NCAA rules. She will complete her eligibility indoors and out in 2014-15.
“It’s a huge thrill for me, a huge step being a conference champion,” Latham said. “But it’s only the Big 10. Nationally, I am ranked fifth, so there is a long way to go. But it’s great knowing I can put a whole meet together.”