At a glance
Head coach: Matt Beisel (1st year)
2016 indoor finishes: 3rd (GPAC); 3rd (NAIA)
2016 outdoor finishes: 2nd (GPAC); 2nd (NAIA)
2016 All-Americans returning: Cody Boellstorff (*weight throw); Philip Kreutzer (hammer, weight throw); Zach Lurz (**shot put, hammer, discus, weight throw); Nathan Matters (4x400m); CJ Muller (600m; 4x400m); Lucas Wiechman (decathlon, heptathlon, pole vault).
2016 All-Americans lost: Trey Barnes (shot put); Trevor Bresson (4x400m); Jose Rojas (hammer, shot put-2); Josh Slechta (hammer, discus, weight throw); Jaap Van Gaalen (4x400m).
Head coach: Matt Beisel (1st year)
2016 indoor finishes: 2nd (GPAC); 5th (NAIA)
2016 outdoor finishes: 2nd (GPAC); 1st (NAIA)
2016 All-Americans returning: McKenzie Gravo (pole vault-2); Samantha Liermann (shot put-2); Kali Robb (hammer, discus, weight throw, shot put-2); Tricia Svoboda (discus).
2016 All-Americans lost: Kattie Cleveland (hammer, discus, weight throw); Stephanie Coley (discus, shot put-2, weight throw); Liz King (*hammer, javelin, weight throw); Kim Wood (1 mile, 1,000m, 800m).
The last time we saw Concordia track and field in action, coaches and members of the team were hoisting national championship and national runner-up trophies while basking in the sunshine in Gulf Shores, Ala., site of the 2016 NAIA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships. More than seven months later, it’s time to turn the page. It’s not just a new year, it’s a new era for the program.
Enter 1992 Concordia graduate Matt Beisel as head coach, the position 2016 NAIA women’s outdoor national coach of the year Kregg Einspahr held for 24 years. Beisel finds himself in a unique situation in that he takes over programs that have raised an oversized red national championship banner in back-to-back years. Bulldog track and field has created a climate of expectation both internally and nationally.
“I don’t worry about it too much,” Beisel said. “Get the job done and have a great time in the process. I think things are going to happen that are supposed to happen. From a coaching standpoint, my philosophy has always been, let’s keep Christ first. Let’s focus on building the team togetherness. I don’t expect anything different here.”
Most recently the head track and field and cross country coach, as well as a science teacher, at Valley Lutheran High School in Phoenix, Ariz., Beisel has paid close attention to the Concordia program no matter where his travels have taken him.
So how can Beisel raise the level of programs that have become accustomed to top-five national finishes? For one, he has intensified recruiting efforts, working tirelessly to secure a large class of newcomers for 2017-18. Secondly, his athletes have raved about his ability to foster a team atmosphere within a sport that can sometimes splinter a squad based on its event groupings. He also understands Concordia has a good thing going with a throwing group tutored by Ed McLaughlin, who won three national assistant coach of the year awards in 2016.
“On the throws side, not a whole lot has changed,” said Zach Lurz, who swept indoor and outdoor shot put national titles last season as a junior. “Coach Beisel has done a great job of just letting us continue to do our thing. It’s worked for us the past three years from my perspective. What he’s added is a team dynamic. We have team bonding times incorporated and we have a lot more team activities than we’ve had in the past. He’s done a great job.”
When analyzing the 2017 Concordia track and field squads, it makes sense to begin with Lurz and the throwers, who were responsible for the bulk of the Bulldogs’ All-America honors last season. Both Lurz and teammate Cody Boellstorff (weight throw) brought home national titles at the 2016 indoor national championships. Lurz would need a truck to transport his 12 career All-America honors. Boellstorff owns five All-America plaques and two national titles himself.
On the women’s side, senior Kali Robb has collected seven All-America finishes in her stellar career. Robb is the ringleader for a women’s throws group that graduated accomplished performers such as 2016 USTFCCCA NAIA outdoor women’s field athlete of the year Liz King as well as Kattie Cleveland and Stephanie Coley. Other returning All-American throwers are Philip Kreutzer, Samantha Liermann and Tricia Svoboda.
So deep and talented has been this group that even national championship meets have felt like Concordia practices at times.
“You here mumblings around us about how good and dominant we’ve been the past few years,” Lurz said. “It’s hard to explain. It’s one of those things. You don’t have people come up and say, ‘Wow, you have a really good team,’ unless it’s guys you’ve been talking to a while. It’s there. You can tell the respect is there. Kids are watching us when we throw warmups.”
The Bulldogs would like to field a more balanced roster to compliment a throwing program that was easily ranked the best in the NAIA in 2016. Another traditional area of strength for Concordia is in the pole vault. All of its 2016 pole vault national qualifiers are back in the forms of All-Americans McKenzie Gravo and Lucas Wiechman in addition to Allie Brooks, Tyrell Reichert and Austin Schafer. Gravo figures to push for school records and Brooks, who bounced back ahead of schedule after suffering a torn ACL in high school, may not be far behind.
Wiechman may chase down school records as well in the heptathlon and decathlon. The native of Pilger, Neb., finished as the national runner-up in the multi-events at both the indoor and outdoor national championships and has himself primed for a special senior season.
On the track, no returner has achieved more than senior CJ Muller (five career All-America awards). Muller has raced to All-America honors in the 600-meter race in each of the last two years. He’s also a key cog in the 4x400 meter relay. After failing to qualify any relays for the 2016 outdoor national championships, the Bulldogs are determined to change that this indoor season.
The women bring back three of the four runners (Tori Beran, Christy Beune and Marti Vlasin) who made up last season’s indoor national qualifying 4x4. A senior from Seward, Vlasin has been a regular for national qualifying relay teams and was part of the 2014 All-America 4x4 group.
“Qualifying is always the goal,” Vlasin said. “I know we have a strong group of middle-distance seniors. Hopefully we can keep that up in the 4x4. In the 4x8 there are quite a few that could be on that team. It would be really exciting to get both of those qualified.”
Additional holdovers who competed at last year’s indoor national championships include sophomores Samuel Ferguson (4x800 meter relay), Nathan Matters (4x400 meter relay), Josiah McAllister (4x800 meter relay) and Thomas Taylor, junior Pat Wortmann (4x800 meter relay), junior Alayna Daberkow (4x400 meter relay) and junior Emily Sievert (5,000 meter run). The latter is coming off a heroic all-conference performance that earned her a spot in the cross country national championships. Sievert is continuing to rehab her knee in hopes of making it back for indoor track.
Combine the aforementioned returners with the collection of newcomers and the makings of solid squads come together. Says Beisel, “I could go on and on and on. There are a lot of good kids ready to roll. It’s been fun seeing them develop.” Expectations will remain high for programs that showed well at the Blue-White Intrasquad meet held on Dec. 9.
“From our intrasquad we had had 19 athletes who had personal bests in 29 events,” Beisel said. “We had nine athletes hit ‘A’ standard qualifying marks in 11 events. That’s a promising thing. For those who have a shot at nationals, the first several meets are critical for them to perform well and get those marks. For the freshmen it’s about testing the waters and beginning to get comfortable with the collegiate level of competition.”
Athletes like Vlasin want to uphold the proud tradition of a program that now displays two national championship banners in the Fieldhouse.
“Concordia definitely has a reputation now,” Vlasin said. “That’s really cool. Conference is going to be a little more competitive. We have championships that we’re trying to compete for at conference and nationals. Wearing the uniforms of integrity and wearing Christ on us and keeping up that sportsmanship is something people respect.”
Added Beisel, “There’s no reason to expect less going forward.”
The indoor track and field season officially gets underway next weekend with two different meets. The Bulldogs will compete at the University of Nebraska Holiday Inn Invitational (Jan. 13-14) and the Nisely Invitational (Jan. 14) hosted by Doane University. Concordia will put on its first home meet of 2017 when the annual Concordia Indoor Classic takes place on Jan. 29.