Why leave your hometown when the opportunity of a lifetime sits right on your doorstep? For five seniors from Seward High School, the offer to be student-athletes at Concordia and join the track and field program was too good to pass up.
Anna Baack, Dalton Berry, Mika Brees, Logan Craig and Zach Potratz each made the decision to trade in Bluejay blue for Bulldog blue. Baack, Brees and Craig made their signings official on Oct. 25. Then last week (Jan. 6), Berry and Potratz held signing ceremonies at Seward High School. For a great number of reasons, first-year head coach Matt Beisel beams when given the chance to talk about the hometown quintet.
“They’re awesome kids and I want to have them be part of our program and contribute as leaders,” Beisel said. “They’re obviously going to help us athletically, but there’s a lot more to it than that. I’m a person who values hometown. I want us to be a good option for kids who go to Seward High School. Kids who grew up in a certain hometown often think that they want to go somewhere else and try something different. What they don’t realize is that when you step onto campus, it is a different world.”
There are numerous Seward High athletes who have put together stellar careers at Concordia. Current Bluejay-turned-Bulldog Trey Barnes recently earned All-America honors for the second-straight year on the football field. He also garnered All-America honors in the shot put under the tutelage of assistant coach Ed McLaughlin.
But this situation is unique. No one can seem to recall an instance in which a group this impressive in terms of quantity and quality – all from the same class and same sport – made the jaunt from 532 Northern Heights Drive to 800 North Columbia Avenue. Pole vault coach Jason Berry, whose scope of Concordia track and field goes back to his own college days that began in 1989, certainly has never seen anything like it. Jason is the father and pole vault coach of son Dalton.
“We’ve had a lot of Seward High kids come to Concordia for music or academics or for football,” Jason said. “Trey Barnes went to football and Marti Vlasin went to track. But we haven’t seen this number in one class coming into one sport. I’ve never seen that in any of our Concordia sports that I know of. To my knowledge, I’ve never seen one class this big for one sport go from Seward High to Concordia.”
Baack, a pole vaulter and daughter of Concordia athletic trainer Randy Baack, was the first of the five to give her commitment to Concordia. It was the first domino to fall.
Said Anna back on her signing day in October, “I have basically grown up there. My dad didn’t try to get me to go to Concordia. It was all on my own, but I think it will be good having my family there. I’m not like some people who just want to get away. I’m excited to stay here. Growing up at Concordia makes me love it that much more.”
But it wasn’t as if Anna’s decision locked every other classmate into attending Concordia. They’re all good friends, but each one had to make their own decision. As a Nebraska state champion in the 100 and 200 meter dashes, Brees entertained a wealth of options. Beisel put his best foot forward on selling her on the idea of coming to Concordia.
A feeling of disappointment came over Beisel on the day when Brees said she had made her college decision. Brees wore the T-shirt of an opposing institution when she greeted Beisel. Upon seeing her, Beisel said, “Oh, looks like you’ve decided.” With a sad face she told him, “Yes I have.” She then pulled out her scholarship offer from Concordia and smiled. Joked Beisel, “She messed with my mind and I realized what a stinker she is.”
Dalton Berry did not attempt to pull any pranks when he made his choice, though his decision did surprise his father. The coaching side of Jason Berry certainly wanted his son to pole vault for the Bulldogs. The dad in him just wanted what was best for Dalton. That may have meant taking a scholarship to be in the marching band at the University of Nebraska. Jason was “99 percent sure” his son would be headed to Lincoln.
“He really put a lot, a lot of thought into this,” Jason said. “It was about the most unique recruiting situation I’ve ever dealt with. There’s the dad side of me that says, ‘You’ve got to do what you need to do and get your degree to set up your future.’ Then there’s part of me as a coach that says, ‘You’ve got to come pole vault here.’ I had to force myself to take a back seat.
“Between Thanksgiving and Christmas he kind of surprised us. He said, ‘Dad, I’ve made my decision. I’m going to go to Concordia.’”
One-by-one, each Bluejay came to realize that Concordia was the best choice. Brees could have gone to many different places, but her hometown had all she could want or need. On the day she made it public, Brees wrote on her Facebook page, “It's official, I will be continuing my track career as a Bulldog next year. After a lot of prayer and consideration, I knew that Concordia was where God was calling me to be. It wasn't an easy decision, but it's one I could not be happier about.
The influx of highly accomplished Seward High School athletes should bode well for future recruiting efforts of area athletes.
“You always hope that any kid from any school will come here, have a great experience and then not stop talking about it,” Beisel said. “Because word gets back home, there are other kids that think, ‘Maybe that’s the place for me.’ I’d love to have kids funnel in every year from these schools, but I also know that God has different plans for different people.”
Added Berry, who has also coached pole vaulters at Seward High, “This is pretty exciting.”
Beisel’s take: “Anna is a great person. You talk to anyone who knows her and they’ll tell you she’s accepting and loving. At the same time, she vaults over 11 feet and is a great athlete on top of that.”
Beisel’s take: “Dalton cares for other people. He’s a good vaulter and he’s going to get a lot better. His heart is in the right place and I love his attitude. He’s a guy with a lot of different interests and abilities. I love recruiting kids who have a lot of interests and hobbies. Dalton’s another great fit.”
Beisel’s take: “Mika went down last summer to New Orleans and worked with underprivileged kids and loved it so much that she’s going to go back this next summer. That says a lot to me about her as a person. She was getting a lot of attention from other schools as the state champion in the 100 and 200 last year.
Beisel’s take: “Logan is a guy with lots of talents and abilities. He’s a good wrestler and was a great football player. He’s a 14-6 pole vaulter. Sitting and talking to his family, you know he’s come from solid roots. He’s dealt with health issues in his life that he's had to overcome and his faith has been a big part of that."
Beisel’s take: “Zach has an amazing heart for others. He’s a relational kid. He’s going to come in and develop as an athlete. He’s a distance runner. I think he’s going to add value with what he’s going to bring to the team atmosphere and culture."
Beisel on the group: “These kids are leaders on their teams. They’re team captains for cross country and track. That says a lot to me. Whatever environment they come from, if they’ve been chosen as a team captain, that means they stand out. When a kid says, ‘I’m a team captain,’ that says a lot about them right there. When they come into our program, they provide leadership. In each situation I look at, I know we’re getting phenomenal young men and women.”