GULF SHORES, Ala. – For the second-straight year, Concordia University track and field has departed from Gulf Shores, Ala., with an oversized red banner. The Bulldogs were crowned national champions for the first time in the history of the women’s program a year after the Concordia men captured the school’s first-ever team national title at the very same venue.
Head coach Kregg Einspahr’s Concordia women piled up 71 points and held off a late push from Indiana Tech in coming out on top at the three-day 2016 NAIA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships. Meanwhile, the men, national leaders after days one and two, ended up with 52 points and a runner-up finish behind Indiana Tech. Zach Lurz headlined individual performances on Saturday by winning his third career shot put national title with a school record toss.
“We thought we had two good teams,” Einspahr said. “We have a lot of juniors and seniors that have been here before and with that we thought we had a chance. This is just a dream come true to be able to win another national championship. You always hope to be in that position someday. What a wonderful feeling for the whole coaching staff and athletes who work so hard. They’re so representative of what Concordia is about.”
The Bulldog women held a 10-point lead heading into the final event, the 4x400 meter relay that included a quartet from Indiana Tech. When the Warriors fell short of a first-place relay finish needed for a championship tie, members of the Concordia team celebrated, arms around each other, by dancing in a circle. Einspahr joined them while high-fiving his athletes.
The national title was made possible by an unprecedented group of throwers, headed by Liz King, the national champion in the hammer throw and runner up in the javelin. King and the female throwers racked up 66 of the team’s 71 points. Stephanie Coley and Kali Robb both turned in All-America performances in three different throwing events. They were two of four All-Americans on Saturday in the discus in an effort crucial to remaining atop the team standings (Tricia Svoboda was runner up).
“It’s always hard to put into words,” said throws coach Ed McLaughlin, named the NAIA Midwest Region outdoor men’s and women’s assistant coach of the year. “I can’t really explain what happened. We came into it thinking it was a possibility. To actually pull it off is just amazing. The girls talked about this last year. They wanted this.”
Senior Kim Wood also produced three critical points on the track with a sixth-place finish in the finals of the 800 meter race on Saturday. Wood clocked in at 2:12.38 for her seventh career All-America award. Wood let loose with a giant “wooooo!” afterwards in fitting ending for the 12-time GPAC champion. “It feels so good,” Wood said. “I can’t believe it really happened. It’s really great to be part of a team that can do that. It’s just incredible to be able to go out on it.”
Lurz broke his own record in the outdoor shot put on his third throw of the day, registering a mark of 59’ 5 ¼” – which outdistanced the runner up by nearly a foot-and-a-half. Now a junior, the native of Chadron, Neb., has 2015 indoor, 2016 indoor and 2016 outdoor shot put titles and 12 career All-America awards to his credit. He was a major reason why the Concordia men won the 2015 outdoor national title.
“I was really hungry to win it for outdoor,” Lurz said of his shot put trophy. “The last couple years have been pretty bittersweet for me. I put together a good series with four throws around 17.50 (meters) or higher. It was one of the best series of my life.”
Lurz delivered three of the Concordia track program’s 23 total All-America performances on the weekend. Twenty of those came out of throwing events. Jose Rojas joined Lurz as an All-American in the shot put on Saturday while Kattie Cleveland, Coley, Robb and Tricia Svoboda were the latest throwing All-Americans courtesy of their efforts in the discus.
Concordia has become an especially dominant program for throwers.
“It was very exciting,” Coley said of the women’s discus performances on Saturday. “I wasn’t sure if we could pull it off. Last year we were just so drained on this day. I knew it was going to be really challenging. We did exactly what we were supposed to do.”
The Bulldog men have now placed inside the top five at four-straight national championship meets. The women have done the same at each of the last three national championships. This weekend’s championship sent Einspahr out a winner. Now a three-time national coach of the year, Einspahr will shift to a full-time teaching role. Matt Beisel, a 1992 Concordia graduate, was tabbed as the successor on May 13.
2016 Concordia outdoor All-Americans