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Junior breaks longstanding 1977 track and field record

April 22, 2022

Junior Lexi LeFever notched yet another school record on her belt for the UW-River Falls Women’s Track and Field team, running a blistering 12.02 seconds in the outdoor 100-meter dash at the Hamline University Invitational on April 2.

LeFever surpassed longtime UWRF record holder Jane Ubbelohde’s time of 12.14 seconds, a time that has stood since 1977. The record-setting performance also set the new benchmark for the meet itself, surpassing the previous mark of 12.18 seconds. Her standout showing at the meet also included two more first place finishes. LeFever won the long jump by leaping 5.56 meters, and her 4x100 meter relay took home the gold by running the race in 49 seconds.

Lexi LeFever
Lexi LeFever competes in the long jump. (Photo by Sam Silver)

LeFever opened last year’s outdoor season with a time of 12.3 seconds in the 100-meter dash, and she entered this year’s Hamline University Invitational with the top seed time of 12.2 seconds, which was her personal best. The conditions for the meet were windy, but not to the level that would deem the record illegitimate. LeFever, who favors running indoors, knew she had gotten off to a great start in the race, but she definitely did not foresee herself making history.

“I had no expectation at all to break that record,” said LeFever.

Upon hearing the third-place time, LeFever knew she had set a personal record for herself. Next, Bethel’s Sarah Stellmach’s second place time of 12.11 seconds, which also bested the meet record, was announced, to which LeFever turned towards her in awe and congratulated her. She now knew that her time was of a caliber she could not have imagined. The new gold standard for 100-meter dash at the Hamline University Invitational, 12.02 seconds, was cemented in the record books with LeFever’s name etched next to it.

“I thought, are you joking? This can’t be real,” said LeFever.

Like she does when she is barreling down the race courses, LeFever’s decorated track and field career has certainly taken a few turns along the way. She began competing in the sport when she was in sixth grade. Throughout high school, LeFever was a state competitor in her 4x200 meter and 4x100 meter relays. Once she started qualifying for state in her individual events, LeFever’s confidence really grew, and she began to set her sights on the collegiate level.

“I was like, huh, I must have a real talent in this sport,” said LeFever.

After exploring her options, LeFever decided to commit her talents to the UW-Eau Claire Blugolds. However, running with the blue and gold threads on just didn’t feel quite right for her. LeFever posted faster times while she was in high school than she did at UW-Eau Claire, and she simply struggled to break out there. LeFever sensed a change of scenery was necessary, and all it took was a tweet for her to identify her future stomping grounds.

The consequential tweet was an announcement from UWRF that they had hired Colleen Sowa as the new head coach for the men’s and women’s track and field. Prior to helming the track and field operation at UWRF, Sowa served two years as a volunteer assistant coach for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and seven years as the head girls track and field coach at River Falls High School. LeFever, hailing from Hudson, was familiar with Sowa tracing back to her high school racing days, and the prospect of receiving Sowa’s tutelage and moving closer to home was extremely appealing, so she jumped ship and transferred to UWRF in January of 2020. Despite only getting to work with her at UWRF for one season (Sowa rejoined the Gophers after the 2021 season), LeFever credits Sowa immensely for unlocking her potential.

“Colleen Sowa definitely had a big impact on me when I started performing how I never thought I could perform,” said LeFever.

Even though her new Falcon fit felt right, LeFever needed to work out a few kinks before hitting the ground running. She still had to acclimate herself to her new team, and she knew she needed a coaching adjustment.

“Me transitioning as an athlete was kind of hard,” said LeFever.

Then, LeFever’s development was stunted by the extraordinary curveball posed by the onset of COVID-19. The 2020 NCAA Indoor Championships and the entire outdoor season was subsequently canceled, preventing LeFever from gaining traction in her inaugural season with the Falcons. While the competitions and team training came to a screeching halt, LeFever’s drive to improve did not.

“The summer after COVID is when I really got my act together,” said LeFever.

LeFever ramped up her training regimen that offseason and wound up reaching a level she had previously never thought was attainable. In 2021, LeFever staked her claim to three UWRF Women’s Indoor Track and Field records: the 60-meter dash (7.71 seconds), 200-meter dash (25.03 seconds), and the long jump (58.2 meters). Her runner-up performance in the long jump at the 2021 NCAA Division III Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships garnered her All-American honors, making her the first Falcon All-American since 2013.

Following up such a wildly successful breakout year is certainly a tall task for any athlete, irrespective of their sport. With great success comes great expectations and pressure, and LeFever has had to cope with those byproducts of success as she strives to continue breaking down barriers.

“This year has been hard on me mentally because of how well I did last year,” said LeFever. “You just have to put all of your knowledge and hard work in from the practices and approach things one meet at a time.”

Based on the boom that has been her encore to last year’s breakout season, it seems like LeFever is having no trouble navigating the pressure and holding serve. She has been impressive all year long, and the UWRF women’s outdoor 100-meter dash record is merely one of many feathers she has put in her cap so far in 2022. For her indoor season, LeFever was named All-Region by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross-Country Coaches Association in the long jump, 200-meter dash, and the 60-meter dash. At the NCAA Indoor Championships last month, LeFever’s third-place finish in the long jump earned her another All-America nod.

LeFever intends to continue her assault on the UWRF record books, with her aim set on the outdoor marks for the 200-meter dash and the long jump. Her indoor long jump school record of 5.82 meters is identical to that of the outdoor long jump school record, giving her the confidence that she can leapfrog it. LeFever especially has her eyes on Alyssa Rasmussen’s outdoor 200-meter dash record of 24.58 seconds which was set back in 2012. She craves this  record because, as she says, “the 200 is my baby.”

LeFever has multiple opportunities left to secure those records, with the UW-La Crosse Phil Esten Challenge meet taking place on April 22-23, the Macalester Invite on April 30, and the WIAC Outdoor Championships and the NCAA Outdoor Championships coming up in May.

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