Senior Morgan Milbrath experienced the glory of the NCAAs her freshman year. Now, she wants to bring her teammates along with her.
From the moment Morgan Milbrath walked into the Shelly Ellig Indoor Track Facility to begin her sophomore season at NDSU, her banner already hung from the south wall. It swung next to the other track legends at NDSU who fought and crawled their way to becoming NCAA All-Americans.
Milbrath’s freshman year in 2014 was somewhat unprecedented in the track and field program. ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale would consider her a “diaper dandy” whose speed vaulted her into the best 4×400-meter relay team in school history.
She was the lone underclassman who passed the baton to decorated college juniors and seniors. Milbrath was the first leg, five-time Summit League 400-meter winner Ashley Tingelstad was second, the NCAA Championship-qualifying hurdler Ashley Heinze was third and Paige Stratioti, who would qualify for the NCAAs in the 800-meter dash, anchored the record-setting relay team.
The quartet broke the school’s 4×400-meter outdoor relay record three times in 21 days. The group’s indoor record still stands while it seems like every other mark in the NDSU record book falls around it.
“After those girls left, it was kind of like she was the star, and she was only a sophomore,” remembers head coach Stevie Keller. “She was pretty young to be the leader in this group, but she’s definitely taken it on.”
Comfortable in Her Own Skin
The Minot, North Dakota, native is self-described as outspoken, which she said helped when she’s trying to learn the hundreds of names that are on the men’s and women’s track roster.
“My freshman year, I definitely thought we were a family and we felt it,” Milbrath said, recalling her first year on-campus and being surrounded by seniors Tingelstad and Heinz. “I had the ability to open up, learn and meet people. They had been here, they knew people on the team, and people liked them so it was easy to connect with a lot of people. Older people would talk to me and just be like, ‘Hey, how are you?’ and were willing to talk to me.”
Those simple conversations made an impact. Milbrath wasn’t a stranger to the older athletes reaching out, seeing as she was the one in the seniors’ shoes when she was in high school, helping the younger athletes at Minot High School. But with all the attention she received her freshman year in college, she realized that way of thinking didn’t have to change. She could be the one to reach out and give a hand to teammates assimilating to the lifestyle of a college track athlete.
“We do a lot of things as a team. We’ll have team dinner and it’s more than just an event group. It’ll be the throwers, pole vaulters and everyone will be together,” Milbrath explained. “It’s just about building camaraderie between everyone at all times. I think what’s really helped with that is getting to know people’s names. I know a lot of people’s names in here and sometimes being goofy or outspoken has helped with that.”
The NDSU track team has also been busy away from the sport. Milbrath is one of the two Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) members on the women’s team, and she gets to see firsthand the philanthropic work her teammates are doing in the community.
To go along with anchoring the fastest relay team in the Summit League and juggling the vice presidency for SAAC, Milbrath finds herself in two prestigious organizations on campus.
Milbrath was nominated as an underclassman to be in NDSU’s Blue Key National Honor Society organization. According to the NDSU website, one of the values of this organization is “to serve and promote progress in the best interests of North Dakota State University and the community, state, nation and humanity.”
Members of the prestigious student organization are anonymously nominated and are selected based off of leadership in student affairs, showing a positive personality and striving for perfection in the classroom. Milbrath is the organization’s vice president.
Milbrath is also involved in the Mortar Board National Senior Honor Society.
“It’s a lot of juggling, but they are things I’m very passionate about,” Milbrath said. “All the organizations I’m in, they’re great. It’s very collaborative work. I try to focus on school first. Athletics does take priority over my clubs, but my clubs are right up there because they are something I’m so passionate about. There’s a lot less of a social aspect going on in my life, but I get it in my clubs so I don’t really need it in other areas.”
Being a Summit League Academic All-League selection pads to the already remarkable resume Milbrath has put together during her four years at NDSU. She’s majoring in physical and health education, which she thinks she’ll pursue once her track career is over. Milbrath is set to student teach in the fall before graduating next December, but isn’t ready to make a decision on her future.
Before figuring out what she wants to do for the rest of her life, there’s business on the track that needs to be finished.
The 4×400-meter women’s relay team was 0.31 seconds short of qualifying for the NCAA Outdoor Championships last May. After competing in the first heat, Milbrath and the Bison were edged by Oklahoma in the last heat, for the 12th and final spot that qualifies teams for nationals.
“You genuinely can’t get much closer than that,” Milbrath said, remembering the heartbreak at the end of her junior season. “It was super bittersweet, but it fueled that fire even more, especially since I haven’t been there since freshman year with those girls.”
The tables have turned this season with Milbrath now leading the charge and anchoring the relay team. Instead of working herself to the limit like she did back in 2014 to help her seniors go out on top, she’s preaching that message to the younger runners.
“I don’t want to be dragging unfinished business with me when I leave,” Milbrath said. “If it doesn’t happen, I understand, maybe that wasn’t the plan. I just want to make sure I did everything I could and know that I gave it my all.”
No one can question the hard work Milbrath has put in during her time at NDSU. Just ask her about organizing 120 people to clean the indoor track facility every spring. That should give you a good idea about how much she’s put on her shoulders during college.
From taking on a leadership role her sophomore season to having her hands in just about everything happening on campus, Milbrath has been busy. All that’s left to check off her to-do list is one final run in nationals. And just like everything else in her life, it’s safe to consider that task will be complete come June.