It’s been a banner year for New Palestine athletics, with high school football and wrestling state titles among a plethora of other county, conference and postseason honors. Corinne Zehner is doing her part to maintain the Dragons’ dominance, from 200 miles away.

Last month, the 2012 New Palestine graduate and Hillsdale (Michigan) College junior won a NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field national championship as part of the Hillsdale distance medley relay team. Zehner also finished fifth in the 1,600 relay with her teammates, earning another All-American honor.

The quartet set school records in both events, helping Hillsdale finish runner-up in the team standings to Central Missouri. Zehner said New Palestine prepared her well for life at Hillsdale, a college she nearly turned down. 

How does it feel to be a NCAA Division II national champion?

Story continues below gallery

“It’s really rewarding and exciting at the same time. I just feel like this year I’ve really tried to put a bigger emphasis on my track life. I was focusing on getting really good sleep, and I think I just put a lot of extra time into it. I was super excited, not just for myself, but also for our team. Both things we placed in at nationals were on the relay team. It wasn’t just by myself, and that was so much cooler knowing that there were three other girls working just as hard as I was to get up on the podium. Being national champion, I never honestly thought that it would really happen. I always wanted to be an All-American. I never knew which event would get me there. I just tried to work hard all year to see where it would take me.

“When my coach told me I was going to run the 400 at nationals (in the distance medley relay), I kind of joked with our coach, ‘So, are we going for the all-time D2 record?’ And he kind of laughed. There was this sense of doubt in his voice, and, in my head, it just lit a fire. I decided, ‘No, we’re going to do this.’ And we ended up being only a couple seconds off of the record. We ran a great race. That made me happy. I thought, ‘We proved you wrong, and we also got a national title.'”

Much of your high school success was in the hurdles. How did you transition to relays, and are you enjoying the relays compared to hurdles?

“I was recruited for hurdles, which I’m still doing the hurdles in outdoor. And I’ve had some pretty good success. But they don’t have the 400 (meter) hurdles in outdoor, so I had to train for the 400 open. And I had one of the faster times on our team, so I’m able to run on the relays. I actually really like relay and the open 400. At first, I wasn’t really used to it. But, this year I just grew to love it. It’s kind of made the transition to outdoors a little bit harder because I miss indoors so much. And running on the relay is really fun, because I know I’m not alone. Since I run the first leg (of the 1,600 relay), I know I have to get the baton to three other girls, hopefully with the lead.”

What exactly is the distance medley relay?

“That’s an event that’s only in indoor, and it consists of a 1,200, 400, 800 and then 1,600. That’s the order. And I run the 400, which is the second leg.”

For someone who did four years of high school track and field, and with cheerleading having been an important part of your high school career, how do you keep from getting burned out in your third year with college track? Plus, all of the academic requirements.

“Sometimes I do get a little burned out, to be honest. I try my best not to let it get to me. I have a lot of supportive friends. The team is really awesome about that, because we all have such a tough curriculum. It’s a little different here at Hillsdale with a liberal arts education. We have to not only fill our major requirements, but we have to fill the core curriculum, and that just makes it that much harder and time-consuming.

“My freshman and sophomore years were a little bit more confusing. I was still trying to figure things out. This year, I kind of learned from some of the mistakes I made in the past. Like I mentioned, sleep. I purposely made my schedule to have classes a little later in the day so I could sleep more in the morning. I’m pretty busy. I feel like I’m always on the go. I literally just came from volunteering at the hospital. But it’s fun. And I know in the end it’s all going to be worth it.”

New Palestine has experienced quite a bit of success in athletics for many years now. How did attending and competing at New Palestine prepare you for college?

“I’ve heard from my parents that a lot of people are moving their kids to New Pal after seeing some of the awesome success, and it’s just continuing to grow. I think a lot of it is … you just kind of grow this bond as teammates at New Pal, being a smaller school. You really get to know each other, so you’re not just on a team with a bunch of random people. You feel like you’re actually working for something. I think at some schools, you’re just there for the social aspect of it.

“I think New Pal prepared me for Hillsdale, especially academically. People at New Pal take academics and school seriously. When I got here to Hillsdale, everyone just thought it was horrible with the classes. When I got here as a freshman, I had seniors in my classes, and they were struggling more than I was. Freshman year was almost like a review for me. I was thinking, all my teachers in high school have already taught me all this stuff.

“I definitely think New Pal helped me prepare, but I also think you have to take advantage of it. I took a lot of AP classes and the dual-credit classes, which really helped.”

Hillsdale seems like it’s been a great fit for you. What advice would you give to high school student-athletes who are being recruited, especially by a college that they may not be familiar with?

“It’s important not to get caught up in the big-name schools, and the schools that are really local. One thing I have noticed at New Pal is that one group of friends might decide to all go to the same school. You have to be willing to remove yourself from that little bubble and reach out and look at other schools. Because maybe IU or Ball State isn’t a good fit for you. I wanted to go to IU since I was in middle school. It was my dream school up until Hillsdale started recruiting me. My parents kind of begged me to take a visit here. I ended up applying on the last day of the deadline. I took a visit and stayed with some track girls, and I just had this gut feeling that I needed to come here.

“I had this little voice in my head saying, ‘Just try something new.’ I knew I was going to be leaving behind friends and family and going to a whole other state just for school. But it’s been so worth it. You just have to be willing to take risks and see what else is out there.”

Corinne Zehner

Hometown: New Palestine.

Born: September 2, 1993.

High School: New Palestine, 2012.

College: Hillsdale (Mich.) College, junior.

Track and field events: Sprints/Hurdles

Major: Biochemistry. Twice named to Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Academic Excellence Team.

Family: Parents, Ed and Marilyn; siblings, Kylie (Purdue freshman) and Kyle (New Palestine senior).

2014-15: Became a two-time All-American in one weekend at the 2015 NCAA Division II championships, March 13-14, in Birmingham, Ala. … Ran the 400 leg (55.3 seconds) in the national champion distance medley relay team and was part of the fifth-place 4×400 relay team (3:47.86) … Set school records in both events. DMR time total time of 11:25 was two seconds off all-time Division II championship record. … Also nationally qualified in the 400 meter dash.

High School: School record-holder in the 4×400 relay, and a regional champion in the 300 hurdles. … Four-time conference champion in the hurdle events and won three county championships in each of the hurdle events. … Finished seventh in the state in the indoor 55 hurdles and eighth in the state in the outdoor 300 hurdles … Named the County Meet’s Athlete of the Meet in 2011 and 2012 … Top times in high school include 14.8 in the 100 hurdles, 8.66 in the 55 hurdles … Earned the 4.0 Award, named Academic All-State in cheerleading and Academic All-Conference in track.