Track and field: Throwing trio keeping up a Litchfield legacy
May 9—LITCHFIELD — The Litchfield track and field team has cultivated plenty of strong throwers throughout the program's history.
Tait Christensen, the Dragons' head girls track coach and throws coach, was a part of that tradition. In 1991, he set the school record in boys discus with a toss of 155 feet, 5 inches. He's since seen that record fall all the way down to fifth. All four throws ahead of him have come within the last 17 years.
"We talked about (with our throwers) when they were younger, who they had to look to," Tait said. "On the boys and girls side, we have had really good throwers for them to model after."
This season, Litchfield is sporting some of the best throwers in the state.
For the girls, there's senior Jaelyn Baseman, who is looking to cap her high school career with another state medal.
On the boys' side, Tait's son, TJ, and his best friend Jacob Dietel are routinely finishing in the top three at meets in the shot put and discus.
On April 28, the trio of throwers all competed against the top throwers in Minnesota at the Hamline Elite Meet. Litchfield and Rosemount were the only schools at the event that brought three throwers.
"It's just nice; other schools know we're good at throwing," TJ said.
"So like, we're warming up and they'll be watching. It kind of feeds the ego a little bit when people are watching like, 'Oh, that's a good throw.'Jacob added, "Us having a lot of good throwers shows what our program is about and how seriously we take it."
"Having (TJ and Jacob) around pushes me and helps us become a team and bond," Baseman said.
In sixth grade, Baseman had Coach Christensen as a math teacher. With a little bit of recruitment, Baseman decided to give throwing a chance in seventh grade.
"He said 'Hey, you should join,' and I did," Baseman said. "And I loved it. I've loved it since."
In the middle school, Christensen's keeping an eye out for his next throwing standout.
"As kids are walking around, do they have a little bit of bounce in their step for a little bit of quick twitch?" Tait said. "And honestly, I found a lot of throwers watching them in gym play dodge ball. If you can throw a dodge ball hard, you can throw anything hard."
Over time — Tait believes it takes three years to really get a grasp on how to throw — Baseman has excelled in the circle. She's fourth in school history in the shot put with a throw of 39-1. She also sits in ninth in discus at 111-7.
"She has the livest arm I've probably ever coached," Tait said. "We're constantly working on other little things but her arm strike is unbelievable."
Making state for the first time in 2022, Baseman's third-place throw was 37-1.5. At the Elite Meet this spring, she hit that record throw of 39-1, putting her in third overall.
"It felt really good," Baseman said of her top throw at Hamline. "I was just in the mindset of hey, this is a great opportunity. I'm glad to be here."
Right ahead of her was Osakis' Kiley Kranz, another Class AA thrower, at 40-1. Jordan Hecht of Rosemount, a Class AAA school, won at 40-5.
"It's definitely a push to me, and since the (Elite Meet), I feel good," Baseman said.
Baseman's throwing career will continue at Division III St. Mary's University in Winona. Before becoming a Cardinal, she hopes to bring home more hardware as a Dragon.
"Experiencing state was a big change because you get to see everyone and have a really good competition," Baseman said. "It feels really good just to relax where before, I was always like, oh my gosh, I have to compete and I wouldn't go as far. But experiencing the opportunities I had, I felt like I grew from that."
TJ and Dietel had family lineage all over the Litchfield leaderboards.
Getting into track and field was a given for TJ.
"I didn't really have much of a choice because my dad's the coach," TJ said with a grin. He began throwing in seventh grade "and I was pretty good for a middle-schooler."
Dietel's spring sport was baseball. But he decided to leave the diamond for the throwers' circle, following a familiar path for his family. Jacob's older brother, Dom, finished second at state in shot put last season at 56-2. Jacob's brother Noah, a freshman, is also a thrower.
"During seventh grade, I decided to join track because it's kind of like a family tradition," Dietel said. "All my older cousins, uncles and stuff all threw so I decided to try it and I liked it so I kept doing it."
TJ and Dietel rode the same bus in elementary school and have become best friends. Both are now juniors and at most meets, they're friendly rivals, usually competing for the top spot in both shot put and discus.
At practices and meets, Tait admits to goading the two in hopes of getting the best out of each other.
"I try to encourage some of that in practice like, who's winning today," Tait said. "At the end, we'll all kind of pay a little attention like 'It looks like you're getting your butt kicked today.' I think it makes them want to beat each other."
That back-and-forth has helped TJ and Jacob climb the top 10 leaderboard. TJ is third in school history in shot put after uncorking a throw of 56-9 Saturday in Sauk Rapids. Heading into that meet, he was a half-inch behind his dad's best mark of 54-7. In discus, TJ is fourth at 155-6, beating Tait's previous school record by an inch.
Jacob is eighth in the shot put with a personal best of 51-11. Dom is fifth at 56-2.
As far as their throwing styles, TJ is a polar opposite of his dad.
"TJ is crazy explosive and he's long," Tait said. "He's not short and compact like me."
As far as Jacob goes, "He's strong," Tait said. "He's by far the strongest guy that we have."
At state last season, TJ was sixth in the discus (148-4) and seventh in the shot put (50-0.25). He improved both those distances at the Elite Meet, taking fifth in discus (154-7) and sixth in shot put (52-11).
"It was cool having a meet where we're competing against more than just each other and seeing people more on the upper end instead of just seeing a bunch of people that aren't within, like, 10 feet of us," TJ said of the Elite Meet.
Jacob has never made the state meet, so the Elite Meet was a chance to dip his toe in the water against top-flight competition.
"Everybody's so good that you kind of have to rise to the occasion," said Jacob, who finished eighth at 51-10. "It kind of makes you throw better.
"It's a little intimidating but it's also kind of cool just to see everybody throw so far."
With its elite trio leading the way now, Tait's hoping to keep Litchfield's throwing tradition strong.
"It's getting kids that like it and buy into what you're doing," Tait said. "Throwing is a lot like fishing; when you're fishing, you say one more cast, one more cast. Throwing's the same way: one more throw, one more throw to beat the last one."
1. Steven Orzolek 2018 59-11
2. Gordy Lupfer 1972 58-0
3. TJ Christensen 2023 56-9
4. Plymouth Nelson 1990 56-7.75
5. Dom Dietel 2022 56-2
6. Tait Christensen 1991 54-7
7. Taylor Snelling 2010 52-5.5
8. Jacob Dietel 2023 51-11
9. Nate Walters 2009 51-9.25
10. Andrew Barnes 2011 51-4
1. Ryan Ackman 2009 172-6
2. Nick Davis 2006 161-3
3. Taylor Snelling 2010 155-10
4. TJ Christensen 2022 155-6
5. Tait Christensen 1991 155-5
6. Gordy Lupfer 1972 155-1
7. Paul Weida 1976 152-3
8. Abdalla AbuSara 2012 151-6
9. Mitch Danner 2012 150-0
10. Paul White 1979 145-8
1. Abby Goraczkowski 2009 43-4.25
2. Sara Ackman 2004 41-2
3. Meghan Nelson 2015 39-6.5
4. Jaelyn Baseman 2023 39-1
5. Brianna Larson 2018 38-10
6. Crystal Vossen 2011 38-9
7. Kianna Burns 1996 36-2
8. Jada Wagner 2019 35-8.5
9. Breanna Eischens 2014 35-5.5
10. Emily White 2018 35-4
1. Sara Ackman 2005 149-3
2. Kjerstin Meyer 2012 132-11
3. Emily Davis 2007 132-0
4. Crystal Vossen 2011 128-9
5. Sarah Schmidt 2016 128-0
6. Abby Goraczkowski 2009 119-1
7. Jada Wagner 2019 119-0
8. Emily White 2018 116-0
9. Jaelyn Baseman 2023 111-7
10. Grace Schmidt 2023 110-2