HASTINGS, Neb. – Amidst the smoky haze that rolled into Hastings, Neb., both Concordia University track and field squads recorded runner-up team finishes at the 2016 GPAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Over the two-day meet, seven Bulldogs combined on 11 individual conference titles with four athletes seizing championships in two events. Josh Slechta capped his huge weekend on Saturday by breaking his own school record in the discus.
The Concordia men totaled 177 points, just shy of the 184.5 they put up on the way to the 2015 conference outdoor title. Meanwhile, 24th-year head coach Kregg Einspahr’s women’s squad tallied 164 points. Doane claimed team titles on both sides.
Top-two league finishes have become the norm for the Bulldog programs, which have seen the women place first or second at the outdoor conference meet five-straight years. The men have done the same in each of the past four years, winning titles in 2014 and 2015.
“Our women scored out about how they were projected to and had a good meet overall,” Einspahr said. “McKenzie Gravo came through in the pole vault. She’s just had a great freshman season. Of course Kim Wood had another good day. It was a windy day or she may have been able to go for a meet record. Our throwers had another outstanding weekend.
“On the men’s side we scored out well ahead of where we were projected to on paper. Doane ended up scoring over 40 points more than the projection. Once in a while we’ve been able to do that to win the conference championship. We had a very good meet up and down the line.”
While GPAC titles are expected from the likes of Liz King and Kim Wood, senior Jacob Kettner did not enter Saturday’s triple jump as a favorite. But the native of Salem, Mo., rose to the occasion with a personal best of 47’ 2 ½” on his final jump of the day. That effort drew roars of approval from teammates and from the large contingent of family members that made the trip.
“This is surreal. It really is,” Kettner said. “I don’t know what happened. I felt good and I jumped well. It just happened that way.”
Slechta and King were the headliners for Concordia’s vaunted group of throwers. Slechta didn’t just settle for a meet record in the hammer throw on Friday, he came back on Saturday to win his second GPAC title of the weekend while breaking his own program record in the discus (180’ 4”). Also on Friday, King won the javelin and hammer throw competitions.
The additional Bulldog throwing title came via junior Kali Robb in the shot put. She drew near the school record (50’ 2”) with a personal best of 49’ 5” in winning the event by nearly three feet. Concordia went 1-3-4 in the women’s shot put with the usual suspects Stephanie Coley and Samantha Liermann falling in line behind Robb. The men’s shot produced an upset as national leader Zach Lurz placed fourth (53’ 5 ¾”), behind teammates Jose Rojas (second, 54’ 8 ¾”) and Trey Barnes (third, 54’ 3 ¼”). Backing Slechta’s title in the discus were Lurz (second), Barnes (fourth) and Rojas (sixth).
In terms of individual point scoring, no Bulldog competed better than junior Lucas Wiechman. He won both the decathlon (6,377 points) and the 110 meter hurdles. Wiechman saved personal bests in both the hurdles (14.60 – automatic national qualifying time) and the pole vault (15’ 11”) at the GPAC championships on his way to 30 individual points.
“I was able to put it all together after a week of recovery,” Wiechman said. “I took it easy on the training and everything. I focused on peaking this week. You just have to throw it up and see where you land.”
Winner of four 2016 GPAC indoor titles, senior Kim Wood concluded her conference meet career with two more wins. She took first in both the 800 and the 1,500 meter runs. She now has 12 career individual conference championships to her credit. She also ran the leadoff leg for the fifth-place 4x400 meter relay.
Not in competition on Saturday, King watched proudly as her teammates went 2-4-5-7 in the women’s discus (Kattie Cleveland runner up – 149’ 10”). That came a day after King led the way for the Bulldogs to place each of the top five in the women’s hammer.
“We had six of the nine girls in the finals,” King said. “That’s unheard of. That was just really fun for us. It’s cool for us knowing Coach (Ed McLaughlin) is proud of us as a group. We’re doing really well.”
While junior CJ Muller came up shy of a conference title, he recorded a second-place finish in the 400 meter dash and a third-place claim in the 200 (both times were season bests). He was also the anchor for a second-place time in the 4x400 meter relay (3:17.72). Also on the track, senior Trevor Bresson was second in the 400 hurdles (54.69). In addition to her pole vault title, Gravo placed fifth in the long jump. Concordia had 10 total all-conference claims in the jumps.
Top long distance running efforts were produced by the likes of Chris Shelton (fifth in steeplechase) and Cameron Moes (sixth in steeplechase). Emily Sievert placed seventh in the 5,000 meter run.
The weekend marked Einspahr’s final GPAC meet as head coach for Concordia track and field. He won 16 combined cross country and track and field conference titles during his 24-year run. Said Einspahr, “Coach (Ted) Bulling (of Nebraska Wesleyan), Coach (Ed) Fye (of Doane) and myself have been around a long time. Our programs have been at the top of the GPAC. It will be a little different meet next year without the three of us together.” Added Kettner, “It’s going to be different. That’s for sure. He’s a staple here at Concordia.”
The Bulldogs will compete in one additional meet before the 2016 NAIA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships take place May 26-28. Next up is the Prairie Wolf Invitational (May 13) hosted by Nebraska Wesleyan. The event schedule can be viewed HERE.
2016 GPAC champions