GULF SHORES, Ala. – After heavy rain and a dash of lightning early in the day, the weather cleared up and allowed for competition to resume on day two of the 2022 NAIA Outdoor Track & Field National Championships. The highlights on Thursday (May 26) came late in the evening as both of Concordia University Track & Field 4x400 meter relays broke school records and blazed to the national finals. Twelve Bulldogs were in action on day two in comfortable conditions at Mickey Miller Blackwell Stadium in Gulf Shores, Ala.
With one day left at the national meet, Head Coach Matt Beisel’s squads have produced point totals of 17 on the women’s side (fourth place) and four points on the men’s side (tied for 31st place). The majority of running events will be scored on Friday. The thrill of the week so far came on Wednesday from the women’s pole vault with Josie Puelz seizing her fourth-straight pole vault national title.
At night’s end, there were hugs all around between the men’s and women’s 4x4s – and selfies with their event coach Mark Samuels of course. The women’s group took to the track just before 9 p.m. CT and cruised to a time of 3:47.26. The previous school record of 3:48.93 had been set a few weeks earlier at the conference championships. The ‘A’ team of Sarah Lewis, Jordan Koepke, Jacee Pfeifer and Rachel Battershell was on its game. Concordia finished second in its heat and eighth in the prelims. That crew of four entered the national meet owning a combined 28 career All-America awards. This will be the final action in the college careers of Lewis and Pfeifer.
Battershell has been involved in six school records, either individually or as part of relays. She’s on the verge of claiming the 10th All-America award of her career, pending Friday’s 4x4 finals. Said Battershell, “It’s incredible. I’ve been so far with these girls. This is the culmination of four years – and we’re not even done yet. We get tomorrow. To share that moment with the guys, who have been working so hard, is such a blessing. We’re just kind of living in it … This season I’ve learned that in personal weakness, your teammates are strong and your God is strong.”
Just minutes later, it was the men’s turn to take the spotlight. Considering the injuries dealt with by several members of the 4x4 group, Thursday’s accomplishment brought about a greater degree of emotion. Jacob Jennings, Cade Kleckner, Colton Meyer and Xavier Ross emerged with the fifth fastest time in the prelims while clocking in at 3:12.59. Collectively, they outkicked their season best of 3:14.81 (seeded 10th) and the former program standard of 3:13.18 set at the 2015 outdoor national meet (in one of the great moments in Concordia Track & Field history). Ross came back to gut it out after he had run 48.65 (16th place) in the prelims of the open 400 meters earlier in the day. Samuels wasn’t sure what Kleckner would be able to give after coming up a bit gimpy following his 200 meter race. This was one of those moments Samuels and the athletes won’t forget.
The joy was obvious in the way that Meyer reacted. Meyer, Jennings and Kleckner were part of a 4x4 that outperformed its projection and earned All-America honors at indoor nationals. The national stage has a way of bringing out the best in them. They have earned their spot in Friday’s finals. Said Meyer, “’Holy smokes’ would be a great way to say it. It was absolutely crazy. We had a lot of question marks coming into the race. Three of us have had hamstring go out at one point. Cade was just yesterday. We have come so far in 24 hours. I think the biggest thing is we are the closest I’ve ever been with teammates before. It makes it so much easier to run when you know the person on the other end cares just as much as you do.”
Also a contributor to the 4x800 meter relay that has qualified for the finals, GPAC champion Keri Bauer ran the 800 meters on Thursday afternoon and clocked in at 2:15.10 while placing 14th out of 22 national entries in the event. Bauer’s personal best of 2:14.01 in the event came at the GPAC Championships. Bauer and her 4x8 teammates will be on the track at 12 p.m. CT on Friday for the finals. She will be joined in the race by Rylee Haecker, Kylahn Heritage and Jenna Esch.
A sixth-place national finisher a year ago in the heptathlon, Amy Richert came on strong towards the close of the outdoor season after fighting her way back from injury. The Gresham, Neb., native finished this year’s heptathlon with a point total of 4,370 and placed 11th. She came up 259 points shy of earning All-America status. Richert’s all-time best in the heptathlon was 4,708 in 2021. She will be back on Friday to compete in the open high jump.
While making his fourth career appearance at a national meet, Wyatt Loga was unable to clear the opening height of 6’ 6 ¾” in the high jump. The native of Bee, Neb., is a two-time high jump All-American with a personal best 6’ 8 ¾” (No. 4 on the program’s all-time outdoor high jump list).
A 2022 outdoor national qualifier in two throwing events, Abby Gerber was the lone Concordia thrower in action on Thursday. The Columbus, Neb., native put together a solid series of tosses and wound up in 12th place (out of 25) in the shot put. She landed a throw of 43’ 1.” One day one of the national meet, three Bulldog throwers picked up All-America honors in the hammer throw: Alli Owings, Sarah Ragland and Chris Wren.
Friday’s complete schedule for Concordia can be viewed below. The day will get started with the finals of the women’s 4x800 meter relay, an event that was pushed back a day due to inclement weather that impacted Wednesday night’s slate.
2022 NAIA Outdoor All-Americans
· Alli Owings – hammer throw (7th)
· Josie Puelz – pole vault (1st)
· Sarah Ragland – hammer throw (4th)
· Chris Wren – hammer throw (5th)
Concordia Schedule – Friday, May 27
· 12 p.m. – Women’s 4x800m Relay Finals: Rylee Haecker, Kylahn Heritage, Jenna Esch, Keri Bauer (Alternates: Rhaya Kaschinske, Jordan Koepke)
· 1 p.m. – Women’s Discus Throw: Sara Huss, Alli Owings, Erin Painter
· 1 p.m. – Men’s Pole Vault: Zach Bennetts, Chase Berry, Zach Zohner
· 2 p.m. – Women’s High Jump: Amy Richert
· 3 p.m. – Women’s 1500m Finals: Rylee Haecker
· 4:10 p.m. – Women’s 400m Hurdles Finals: Jordan Koepke, Sarah Lewis
· 6:15 p.m. – Women’s 4x400m Relay Finals: Sarah Lewis, Jordan Koepke, Jacee Pfeifer, Rachel Battershell (Alternates: Keri Bauer, Jenna Esch)
· 6:25 p.m. – Men’s 4x400m Relay Finals: Jacob Jennings, Cade Kleckner, Colton Meyer, Xavier Ross (Alternate: Joel Rathe)