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John’s Journal: The Next Heather Van Norman?

Concordia Academy’s Zinter Could Repeat History

Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2022 - 1:56 PM


Concordia Academy senior Shaina Zinter has the top reported Class A times in the state in the 100, 200, 400, 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles and long jump.


Shaina Zinter, a two-time national champion in the heptathlon, has signed with the University of Wisconsin.

It’s not fair to put undue pressure on a young athlete, which is why I did a little tiptoeing when I interviewed Concordia Academy track and field star Shaina Zinter the other day.

We had been chatting about Shaina’s goals for her senior season, her decision to sign with the University of Wisconsin, the Class A state titles she won last year in the 100- and 300-meter hurdles, her two USA Track and Field national championships in the heptathlon, and other assorted topics.

Then I asked Shaina, “Do you know the name Heather van Norman?”

She replied, “It sounds familiar.”

These days, Van Norman is well-known as the mother of NFL wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Heather was an NCAA champion sprinter at Louisiana State before beginning a college track coaching career at schools including Rice, Georgia Tech and Tulane.

Back in the day, before all that, Van Norman made history at the 1987 Minnesota Class A state track and field championships. The young athlete from Windom finished first in the 100, 200 and 400, and she scored enough points to take home the team state championship all by herself. Her feat ranks among the most memorable performances in Minnesota high school sports history.

Shaina might not know a lot about Heather Van Norman, but she has thought about making a similar mark before her high school career ends this year. Her accomplishments mark her as someone to watch.

She ran on Concordia Academy’s 4x200 relay team at state when she was in seventh grade, placed fifth in the 300 hurdles as an eighth-grader, and as a sophomore in 2019 was second in the 300 hurdles and fifth in the 100 hurdles.

There was no track season in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic, but Zinter had an outstanding 2021 season, winning both hurdle races at state while placing third in the 200 meters and fourth in the long jump. Those efforts were worth an individual meet-best (regardless of class or gender) 38 points, which put her in fourth place in the Class A team standings.

At this point in the 2022 season, Zinter has the top reported Class A times in the state in the 100, 200, 400, 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles and long jump. She plans to run both hurdle events, the 200 and the long jump in section and state competition.

She will be among a quality field at Friday’s Hamline Elite Meet, which will return for the first time since 2019. The event, which was not held the past two years due to the pandemic, brings together the top athletes in the state in a finals-only format (with the exception of the 100 meters, which will have prelims).

The vision of winning a state team title all by herself materialized for Zinter after her performance at state last spring.

Yeah, definitely after last year, seeing like, ‘Oh wow, my points got fourth place.’ ” she said. 

Concordia Academy also could score points in the shot put, with senior Nora Wilhelm currently having the third-best performance in Class A this year.

The state championships will be held June 9-11 at St. Michael-Albertville High School. This is the first year with three classes in Minnesota track and field; it had been a two-class sport from 1976 through 2021. Concordia Academy, which is in Roseville and has a high school enrollment of 273, remains in Class A.

“She definitely could have that kind of impact, it’s possible she could run the table,” said Concordia Academy coach Marc Paul. “If Shaina wins it with more points than any other team, that would be neat.”

Zinter is a two-sport athlete, playing volleyball from a young age. She was named a Class A all-state volleyball player last fall.

“Five or six years ago she was maybe looking at a college volleyball career,” Paul said. “She proves that you can be a high-level volleyball player and track athlete.”

With cold, wet spring weather hampering all athletes and teams, Shaina has worked out indoors more than outdoors so far. Things like the long jump and hurdles can be a challenge under such conditions; she talked about running over no more than two hurdles before slamming into a wall inside an auxiliary gym at Concordia Academy.

I haven't been outside nearly as much as I was last year,” she said. “I was outside at the beginning of March to mid-March, and this year I got outside like two or three times in March. So it's been feeling like I'm sort of behind in my training and my preparation for events.”

Her decision to become a track and field athlete at Wisconsin was made after also considering the University of Minnesota.

They were both close to home, and I did want to stay close to home,” Shaina said. “They're kind of similar. They’re both in the Big Ten. They're also really different. Wisconsin is more like a college city, sort of their own thing, and then Minnesota is more in the heart of the Twin Cities. It’s not a deal-breaker for me, but I've never really liked the city. I like having a little town of our own.”

She plans to focus on the heptathlon in college; that event encompasses 100-meter hurdles, 200 meters, 800 meters, high jump, javelin, shot put and long jump.

Shaina currently holds school records in eight events: 200, 400, 800, 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles, long jump and two relays. She was part of a school-record 4x200 relay team as a seventh-grader, when she was a very quiet young athlete.

She wouldn’t say a word,” Paul said. “Now she talks your ear off. She was very quiet but she always advanced. She doesn’t shy away from a challenge. She just kind of continually grew into what she is, a confident young woman who has taken advantage of good opportunities.

“We knew when she was a sixth-grader, in middle school track, that she was special but I didn’t exactly quite see this much coming. As a seventh-grader you started to see glimpses. … Whatever the challenge was, she would meet it and rise above it.”

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at  

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