SEWARD, Neb. – A year removed from a men’s team national title, national qualifiers from the Concordia University track and field programs are headed back to the Gulf of Mexico. The Bulldogs will invade Gulf Shores, Ala., for the 2016 NAIA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships this week. The 65th annual men’s event and 36th annual women’s event will unfold Thursday through Saturday (May 26-28) at Mickey Miller Blackwell Stadium.
The complete group of 23 Concordia national qualifiers can be viewed HERE. Once again, the Bulldogs are loaded in the throws with 16 nationals-bound throwers having recorded a combined 30 automatic qualifying marks. Nineteen of the 23 athletes possess prior national championships experience. According to the latest NAIA national computer ratings, Concordia ranks No. 2 for both men and women.
“We’ve had great success at Gulf Shores,” said 24th-year head coach Kregg Einspahr prior to the start of the outdoor season. “We’re looking forward to getting back down there. I know the coaches enjoy the seafood down there. We have good memories there. We’re looking forward to getting back and seeing how we stack up during the outdoor track season.
“We’re optimistic that we can get back there and have another real good showing – hopefully a couple more top-10 finishes at the national championships.”
A year ago the Concordia men celebrated the first team national title for any sport in school history. Dating back to the 2015 indoor national championships, the men’s team has placed inside the top five nationally in each of the last three championship meets. Seven athletes from the 2015 national title team will be back at Blackwell Stadium this week. Meanwhile, the women are coming off fifth-place finishes at both the 2015 outdoor national championships and the 2016 indoor national championships.
Three Concordia competitors have won previous individual national championships: Liz King (2014 javelin), Zach Lurz (2015 and 2016 indoor shot put) and Josh Slechta (2015 weight throw). In addition, the group headed to Alabama owns a collective 53 All-America awards. Lurz tops the list with nine career All-America plaques while Stephanie Coley has eight to her credit (six in the shot put). CJ Muller (five) and Kim Wood (six) have a combined 11 All-America plaques on the track.
Bulldog throwers again dominate NAIA leaderboards. That’s especially true in the women’s shot put (three of the top four), women’s discus (four of the top seven), men’s hammer (three of the top four) and women’s hammer (five of the top seven).
“I worry more than anyone else,” throws coach Ed McLaughlin admitted. “But we’re going into it with the expectation that everyone does what they did to make it there, with the hope that they’ll do more. Sixteen is a lot of kids and we’re expecting a lot out of that group. The advantage we have is because they’re all teammates they feed off each other. At indoor nationals, I really think the reason they were so successful is because it felt like practice. They were doing the same thing they do every day.
The line of throwers at national championship practices in Alabama will be flooded with Bulldog long tossers. “We have a fantastic group here,” Slechta said. “They’re all some of my best friends. I can mess around with them at practice and joke with each other. They’re also top-tier athletes. We push each other at practice every day. It’s nice having them at practice so you know what you need to do to make a difference at a national meet.”
Four Bulldogs are readying for their first-ever national championships appearances: Adam Aschenbrenner (hammer), Jacob Kettner (triple jump), Tyrell Reichert (pole vault) and Jan Steinbrueck (discus). They join three additional teammates seeking their first career All-America placements.
“It’s so much fun,” said McLaughlin of experiencing the journey with first-timers. “With Adam’s situation where he’s a fifth-year senior, it’s someone who’s gotten close the last few years and just hasn’t gotten over the hump. When he qualified (at the Prairie Wolf Invite) it was probably the first time I’ve seen athletes from other teams congratulate someone for qualifying for nationals. Everybody knows how hard he works for it."
Four Concordia pole vaulters are members of the national qualifying group. It includes freshman McKenzie Gravo, already a two-time GPAC champion. She placed fifth and earned All-America status at the indoor national championships in March. On the men’s side, junior Lucas Wiechman is a two-time All-American in the pole vault. He will have a busy weekend having also qualified for nationals in the decathlon and 110 meter hurdles.
The multi-events kick off the NAIA National Championships on Thursday (May 26) with the men’s decathlon at 10 a.m. CDT. In the women’s heptathlon, event’s get started at 10:30 a.m. Opening Ceremonies are scheduled for 2 p.m. on May 26 and precede trials of the relays.
Stretch Internet, the NAIA’s official video-streaming company of NAIA national championship events, will be broadcasting the events on www.NAIANetwork.com. A subscription package to view the entire three-day event is $14.95. For more information, including how to register and sign-up for an account, click here.
For more information on the 2016 NAIA Men’s & Women’s Outdoor Track & Field National Championships, click here.
2016 Concordia outdoor national qualifiers
Adam Aschenbrenner, Senior
Trey Barnes, Sophomore (All-America awards: 1)
Allison Brooks, Freshman
Kattie Cleveland, Senior (All-America awards: 1)
Stephanie Coley, Senior (All-America awards: 8)
McKenzie Gravo, Freshman (All-America awards: 1)
Jacob Kettner, Senior
Liz King, Senior (All-America awards: 5; one national title)
Philip Kreutzer, Junior (All-America awards: 1)
Samantha Liermann, Freshman (All-America awards: 1)
Zach Lurz, Senior (All-America awards: 9; two national titles)
Sydney Meyer, Junior
CJ Muller, Junior (All-America awards: 5)
Nicole Perry, Senior
Tyrell Reichert, Sophomore
Kali Robb, Junior (All-America awards: 4)
Jose Rojas, Senior (All-America awards: 2)
Ben Schulteis, Senior
Josh Slechta, Senior (All-America awards: 3; one national title)
Jan Steinbrueck, Sophomore
Tricia Svoboda, Junior (All-America awards: 1)
Lucas Wiechman, Junior (All-America awards: 5)
Kim Wood, Senior (All-America awards: 6)
Concordia outdoor national finishes since 2005
2015: M – 1st | W – 5th
2014: M – 11th | W – 9th
2013: M – 42nd | W – 20th
2012: M – 57th | W – 15th
2011: M – 11th | W – 57th
2010: M – 24th | W – 14th
2009: M – 7th | W – 19th
2008: M – 11th | W – 29th
2007: M – 15th | W – 24th
2006: M – 7th | W – 28th
2005: M – 13th | W – 17th