Concordia women celebrate 10th-straight GPAC title; men place third

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 17, 2024 in Track & Field

YANKTON, S.D. – The incredible string of GPAC team championships has reached 10 for the women of Concordia University Track & Field. At the 2024 GPAC Indoor Track & Field Championships held this weekend (Feb. 16-17) in Yankton, S.D., the Bulldog women’s team ran away from the competition once again while compiling 206 points with the help of GPAC titles in six of the 19 events. Meanwhile, the Concordia men racked up 96.66 points and placed third in the conference.

Head Coach Matt Beisel has presided over each of those GPAC titles during the current streak. GPAC event championships were won on the women’s side by the 4x400 meter relay, Jenna Esch, Rylee Haecker, Jordan Koepke and Zoey Walker. Meanwhile, Calvin Rohde, Chris Wren and Zach Zohner each claimed a conference title on the men’s side.

“We achieved our team goals of winning on the women’s side and being top three on the men’s side,” Beisel said. “Getting third four times in five years is a good accomplishment in the GPAC. I can’t complain, these guys did great. We don’t take it for granted. There was a lot of talk about giving glory to God no matter what happens. I was very aware of His presence today and prayed through the whole meet. It was obvious how much our team supported each other. They were screaming and yelling the whole time.”

Ranked No. 2 nationally entering the meet, the Bulldog women have become accustomed to stacking points across event areas. The accumulation of points began on Friday with 22 from the pentathlon, headed by runner-up place finisher Zoey Walker. A school record even fell by the wayside on Saturday as Kylahn Freiberg blazed around the track for a 3,000-meter time of 10:05.72. Concordia also hit it big in the 400 meters as Koepke won it while combining with her teammates for 21 points in the event. Koepke later concluded the victorious meet by running the final leg for the first place 4x4.

A flurry of points kept coming from the track as Koepke won the 400 (58.86), Esch claimed first in the 600 (1:35.57) and 800 (2:18.68) meters and Haecker beat out the competition in the 1,000 meters (2:59.10). The Davenport, Neb., native Haecker won the GPAC 1,000-meter championship for the third-straight year. Koepke was preceded in the 4x4 by Esch, Kayla Kirchner and Trinity Tuls. Together they won gold in a time of 3:59.23. Tuls added a ‘B’ standard in the 400 meters (59.05) and placed third.

Said Beisel of such standout efforts, “We’ve been really blessed by the depth on our roster. These are young women who were good high school athletes who have been able to blossom and develop and do some great things. We saw some heavy-duty performances. It was nice to see Rylee win another title. She’s just performed so well. She came back in the 1,000 after she ran the mile. Kylahn’s goal was to break the school 3k record and she did. That was really cool.”

A couple of Bulldogs on the women’s side also placed second, including Freiberg in the mile (5:03.34) and 3,000 meters and Adrianna Rodencal in the 60-meter hurdles (8.56). Freiberg and Haecker (5:06.72) both ran improved mile times. That event not only saw Freiberg and Haecker place second and third, respectively, but also resulted in Julie McIntyre finishing fifth. The 2023 GPAC Indoor and Outdoor Female Athlete of the Year, Rodencal turned in additional placements of third in both the 60 meters and 200 meters.

The freshman Walker led the way in the field events as she won the high jump title with a clearance of 5’ 5.” Walker totaled 18 team points when adding in her second-place claim in the pentathlon, which also featured all-conference honorees Faith Espinosa (third), Elena Batenhorst (fifth), Amanda Steinke (sixth) and Amy Richert (eighth). Another standout jumper, Hayley Miles placed fourth in the triple and sixth in the long jump.

In other women’s field events, the throws were paced by the usual suspects as Abby Gerber claimed third in the shot put (44’ 9”) and Abi Wohlgemuth took third in the weight throw (56’ 8 ¾”) while Kamryn Pokorney placed top eight in both. In the pole vault, Amira Cummings cleared the ‘A’ standard again and placed third. She was followed by Erin Boggs (fourth) and Josie Puelz (sixth). The five-time national champion Puelz vaulted for the first time since December.

On the men’s side of the vault, Zohner keeps pushing the envelope. He skied above 17 feet (17’ 1”) on Saturday and won the GPAC competition by nearly two feet (second career GPAC title). He continues to lead the nation in the event. Mayson Ostermeyer placed second to Zohner with a personal best of 15’ 3” that is currently top 16 in the NAIA and could make him a national qualifier.

There have been many accomplishments in the career of Wren (three-time All-American), a native of Fair Oaks, Calif. He equaled a personal best in the weight throw with his toss of 65’ 2” and seized his first career GPAC title. That mark pushed him all the way up to No. 2 on the NAIA national list. As another major highlight in the throws, Darien Semedo hit the ‘A’ standard in both the shot put (51’ 10 ½”) and weight throw (56’ 11 ½”) and put team points on the board in both events. In addition, Carson Fehlhafer was a fourth-place finisher in the shot put.

The Reed City, Mich., native Rohde is certainly the lead Dawg in the men’s distance crew. He enjoyed a busy Saturday that saw him win the 1,000 meters (2:34.93) for his first career GPAC title and place second in the mile (4:14.65) and fourth in the 3,000 meters (8:47.73). Those finishes gave Rohde 23 team points all by himself. Some other notable placements on the track included fourth from Hayden Kluthe in the 60 hurdles and fifth from Colby Sugden in the 400 meters. The top placement from the jumps group was delivered by Joel Rathe, who placed fourth in the long jump. The meet concluded for the men with a fourth-place time of 3:27.88 in the 4x4 (Liam Fagan, Sugden, Teagan Meyer and Kluthe).

Said Beisel of Rohde, “He’s come so close (to winning a GPAC title), and I’m so happy for him. He ran a very strategic race and the guys couldn’t keep up with him.” Beisel also gave props to a host of other athletes across different event groupings.

2024 GPAC Indoor Champions

·        Women’s 4x400m Relay (3:59.23); Jenna Esch; Kayla Kirchner; Trinity Tuls; Jordan Koepke

·        Jenna Esch – 600 Meters (1:35.57); 800 Meters (2:18.68)

·        Rylee Haecker – 1,000 Meters (2:59.10)

·        Jordan Koepke – 400 Meters (58.86)

·        Calvin Rohde – 1,000 Meters (2:34.93)

·        Zoey Walker – High Jump (5’ 5”)

·        Chris Wren – Weight Throw (65’ 2”)

·        Zach Zohner – Pole Vault (17’ 1”)

NOTE: Placements in the top eight individually and in the top three of relays represent all-conference finishes. The complete list of All-GPAC honorees from Concordia will be published online next week.

The conference championship streak for the women dates back to the 2019 GPAC indoor meet that was hosted by Concordia. In the Bulldogs’ latest title, they handily held off the likes of Doane (136.25) and Dordt (100). On the men’s side, Concordia appeared to be in a close battle for third place in the middle of the meet. The Bulldogs held their ground and fended off the likes of Mount Marty (79) and Midland (77.33). The championship venue at Mount Marty also played host to the 2021 NAIA indoor national meet.

For those who qualify, the season will continue at the 2024 NAIA Indoor Track & Field National Championships in Brookings, S.D., Feb. 29 – March 2. National qualifiers for multi events will be announced on Feb. 19 while all other qualifiers will be revealed on Feb. 23. More details on the national meet can be found HERE.