Day 1 Recap: Puelz seizes NAIA pole vault title

By Jacob Knabel on Mar. 3, 2021 in Track & Field

YANKTON, S.D. – On the opening day of the 2021 NAIA Indoor Track & Field National Championships, the Concordia University women’s team made its initial push for another trophy finish. Sophomore Josie Puelz will never forget this day – the day she became a national champion. While Puelz and Erin Mapson starred in the pole vault, the Bulldogs advanced to the finals of four separate running events, including two relays. Sixteen women’s athletes represented Concordia on Wednesday (March 3) in action that is being held at the Ruth Donohoue First Dakota Fieldhouse in Yankton, S.D.

Puelz had to wait around all day before the evening pole vault competition, but the end result was well worth the anxious moments.

Said Puelz immediately following her national title, “You build up so much anxiety and stress coming into this moment, just being in the competition was awesome. I was so glad that somebody was right there to push me to better heights. It’s like you see the whole season come together coming down from the bar – and thank God it stays.”

Head Coach Matt Beisel watched with pride as Puelz and Mapson combined to put 15 team points on the board in an event the Bulldogs had been projected to score eight points. It will position the Concordia women nicely when the women’s portion of the meet picks back up on Friday.

Said Beisel, “This was the second year in a row at indoor nationals that the women’s pole vault competition was absolutely riveting. Abby Collingham from Hastings just kept going and finally Josie ended up clearing and winning. We’re here not only for individual accomplishments, but to score big team points. Erin Mapson had a phenomenal day too. Those were the first points we’ve put on the board and a lot of good things happened. It’s never everything you want, but we give glory to God whether it goes our way or not.”

It took Puelz equaling her personal best and school record (13’ 4 ½”) to finally hold off a big push from Collingham. Meanwhile, Mapson vaulted 12’ 5,” placed fourth and took home her third career All-America award. Pole vault coach Jason Berry had reason to smile about all four of his women’s qualifiers. Amira Cummings also cleared a PR (11’ 9”) and Anna Baack made her second career appearance at a national meet. For Mapson, this was a triumph over adversity in the form of injury and a challenging road both mentally and physically. Now she’s back to an All-American level.

In the 400 meters, junior Rachel Battershell is hoping to defend her 2020 NAIA national title. She has secured a spot in the finals after clocking in at 57.13 in the prelims (first in her heat). The three-time GPAC 400 meter champion figures to have more left in the tank after entering the meet with the top seed mark in the NAIA at 55.93. Teammate Sarah Lewis also ran the 400 on Wednesday and finished in 59.48 (outside of finals qualification).

Battershell and Lewis were part of the 4x400 meter relay that blazed to a season best time of 3:55.74, good for fifth in the prelims. Keri Bauer and Jacee Pfeifer ran the second and third legs, respectively, while being bookended by Lewis and Battershell. The group placed as the GPAC runner up two weeks ago.

It was a big day for freshman Rylee Haecker, who collaborated with Sydni Schernikau, Grace Reiman and Kylahn Heritage for a time of 12:33.21 (sixth in the prelims) in the distance medley relay, an event that is not held at the conference level. Haecker and Heritage came back in the 1,000 meters in the afternoon. A native of Davenport, Neb., Haecker made a significant move in the final couple of laps and finished in 3:01.65 (sixth in the prelims) while advancing to the finals of the 1,000. Meanwhile, Heritage placed 15th (3:09.56).

Concordia qualified three competitors in the pentathlon that came to a conclusion on Wednesday. In the last of the five events, freshman Amy Richert moved back one spot from eighth to ninth. Richert, (3,186) who is especially adept at the high jump, was two points off an All-America award. Seniors Emily Loy (2,992) and Kennedy Mogul (2,975) placed 14th and 15th, respectively. Mogul won the shot put portion of the pentathlon.

The hurdles and 600 meter races did not go as hoped. Lewis (9.21) and Battershell (9.24) fell short of qualifying for the finals of the 60 hurdles. That was also the case for Keri Bauer and Jacee Pfeifer in the 600 meters. Both had never before run the 600 at a national meet. Pfeifer was determined to finish her race despite competing through the pain that she’s dealt with this indoor season.

All women’s finals events on the track will be contested on Friday. The full meet schedules can be viewed via the NAIA website: Men | Women. The first men’s events will occur on Thursday. The rundown for Concordia athletes is included below.

Added Beisel, “I just love our team and these kids and our coaches are phenomenal … we have a lot of good things left to happen.”

Thursday (March 4) schedule

·        9 a.m. – Heptathlon (Cody Williams)

·        9:45 a.m. – 4x400m Relay (Jacob Jennings, Cade Kleckner, Colton Meyer, Henry Reimer)

·        11:15 a.m. – Distance Medley Relay (Maccoy Menke, Calvin Rohde, Camden Sesna, Christian Van Cleave)

·        2:30 p.m. – 400 Meters (Colton Meyer)

·        6 p.m. – Pole Vault (Zach Bennetts, Chase Berry, Cody Williams, Zach Zohner)