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home : sports : sports
March 28, 2020

6/27/2019 3:45:00 PM
NB alum Michael Hensch caps amazing Gustie career

Through nearly his whole career at North Branch High School, Michael Hensch was a small-ish 6’1”, 210 pound football and baseball player.

He was a standout linebacker and running back for the football team in the fall, and had a decent run as a baseball player in his sophomore and junior seasons. But, in his senior season, he made a decision that would alter the next half decade of his life in an astounding way, and it wasn’t even a decision he left in his own hands.

Hensch had played baseball his whole life but just wanted something a bit different in the last semester of his senior year. “I was just a bit burnt out on the sport,” he said. “I did it all year.” He wanted to spend his last high school athletic season with one of his best friends, Matt Blomquist.

Blomquist had just finished up his  last basketball season after a run as a standout soccer player in the fall. The pair of best friends were thinking of playing the same sport in the spring, and Hensch didn’t care which one it was, so he left the decision to Blomquist.

Blomquist mulled his options, leaning towards golf, which Hensch said he would have gladly played if his buddy decided to go out for the team.

Ultimately, Blomquist decided he wasn’t going to participate in a spring sport and instead enjoy the last few months of his time at North Branch without any athletic committents. Hensch, who is a detail-oriented person and likes to have a set plan and schedule, needed to be in some sport. He had always been in a spring sport.

He took a look at all of them, eventually deciding track and field would be a good fit for the strength and speed he had cultivated on the gridiron.

From the get go, he was a rare track athlete. He decided to try his hand at weight throws and sprinting.  A majority of throwers are very large human beings, but still quick, although not necessarily fast. And most sprinters are long, lean and have been working their craft since early in their middle school days. Hensch didn’t really fit in either box, so he did both. And he excelled at both.

He consistently scored points for North Branch in sprints, but his real passion and skill showed in the throwing events. Hensch eventually qualified for the state tournament in shot put in his first year of competition and finished in third place in Class AA, a ridiculous achievement for a first year thrower.

His natural success throwing weights around got him to thinking that he would be a part of the track and field team at his college of choice, Gustavus Adolphus. He was already accepted and planning on playing on the football team for Gustavus, so he figured he’d add field events to his schedule.

Early on, Hensch was slightly out of place in the throwers’ room. He was the smallest guy there, and his technique was still fairly raw compared to the others. He had made a name for himself on the football field, playing in all 10 games as a freshman with 17 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, but he had played football his whole life. It was natural to him. The throws weren’t always natural.
But, with such little experience, every practice and every meet expanded his knowledge of the technique and that allowed him to make some serious gains quickly while others were struggling to just add inches to their throws.

He was drilling his technique and strength in the shot put and discus and he was making huge strides. But, that grinding feeling that drove him from baseball seemed to be setting in. Drilling two throws over and over was a bit monotonous for him, so he decided to add the hammer throw and the javelin to his arsenal. The hammer throw is natural for a thrower to get into as it’s very similar in style to the shot and discus. But the javelin is whole different animal. It is classified as a throwing sport, but one look at the athletes typically competing, and they aren’t built like throwers. A majority of the javelin throwers double as sprinters and jumpers.

But, Hensch fit in that middle portion, and with his natural throwing talent from baseball, he began to excel at all four as he built up the technique.

“I got bigger throughout my career, and all of my events kept gradually moving up. My coach, who’s been in the business for 30 years and has something like 50 All Americans, took extra time to make sure I was moving in the right direction,” Hensch said.
The coach, Tom Thorkelson, has been retired from his full time job for some time, so Hensch was able to craft a schedule that fit around football commitments and his studies, and it worked great. “Sometimes we could meet early, and sometimes we could meet late,” Hensch said.

Hensch figures throughout his career he was putting in upwards of four hours a day in throwing practice and weight lifting.

All of that work built up to his senior year. Hensch was a man on a mission throughout the indoor and outdoor season, and it culminated in two huge events. The first was an unprecedented quadruple at the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) in mid-May. Hensch became the first athlete in the 99-year history of the conference to win all four throwing events, sweeping the shot put, discus, hammer and javelin. It is believed that it may be the first time on any level of college track and field that an athlete has swept all four events at a conference championship. For that feat, he was named the US Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Midwest Regional Athlete of the Year.

As he was standing in the pits after his clean sweep, Hensch said the accomplishment hadn’t quite hit him yet. Once his coach informed him he wasn’t sure the feat had ever been done, the excitement started to build. “I was just very happy, my mom was crying as she hugged me, and it was just a proud moment,” Hensch explained.

Making the accomplishment even more impressive was the competition at the meet. There were six national meet participants from the MIAC, three All Americans in hammer (including the defending national champion), and two national participants in discus. All but one of the competitors were seniors. It was an extremely high bar that Hensch had to clear to reach the milestone.

The next big event was the NCAA Division III Outdoor Championships. Hensch tossed a school record throw in the hammer, which earned him third place at the event and All American honors.

Hensch also finished seventh in the shot put and eighth in the discus.

He’s just the third Gustie ever to earn All American in the hammer, and only the third to earn three All American awards in the same year.

All told, Hensch was a four time All American (one indoor shot and three in his senior year), a three time MIAC Outstanding Field Athlete, the USTFCCCA Midwest Athlete of the Year, the 2019 Gustavus Adolphus Male Athlete of the Year, a National Football Foundation Hampshire Honor Society member, and to top it off, he graduated Cum Laude in Exercise Physiology.

Hensch attributes his growth in the sport to a lot of different people, including high school coach Adam Wilson, who was a thrower at Bemidji State; and to former NB and Gustie football teammate Jake Schmitz, who Hensch said taught him how to work hard if you want something. “Jake was never the most gifted, but he was always the hardest worker,” Hensch would say.

He also credited his throwing coach at Gustavus, as well as a former conference champion thrower that was a senior when Hensch was a frosh, Sam Fisher. “He really took me under his wing and showed me the ropes of throwing in college.”

And of course, Hensch couldn’t forget credit to Blomquist for not going into golf that fateful senior year.

As for his post-throwing career, Hensch wants to get into being a physical therapist in the sports world. He’s going to Concordia-St. Paul for grad school next year, and he’s going to contact their coach for volunteer  opportunities in their throwing program.

But, he’s got a little something else on his mind first: a Mediterranean cruise with his family, including mom and dad Barb and Dennis, and his sister Mikayla. After all the work that he’s put in over four years at Gustavus, it’s a well-deserved escape.

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