YANKTON, S.D. – The pole vault has yielded plenty of thrills over the first two days at the 2021 NAIA Indoor Track & Field National Championships. The latest accolades were attained by Zach Bennetts and Chase Berry, who collected All-America plaques on Thursday (March 4) as the men’s portion of the national meet got underway from the Ruth Donohoue First Dakota Fieldhouse in Yankton, S.D. In addition, the Concordia University Track & Field men advanced two relays to the finals to be held on Saturday.
Head Coach Matt Beisel’s men’s squad collected 6.5 team points via the place finishes of Bennetts and Berry. The Bulldogs have hopes of placing in the top 10 nationally.
While touching on all of the day’s events, Beisel noted that the men’s 4x400 meter relay ran a strategic race and was not pushed hard in its particular heat. Said Beisel, “Those guys are All-Americans on Saturday so that’s really exciting to see. Henry Reimer as a senior has been going after this for a few years now so that’s a great thing for him. In the DMR, all of our guys ran lights out in their separate events. We have an unexpected opportunity now to compete for points. We’re going to have to fight hard to get into the top eight (10 relays qualified).”
Beisel also commended the efforts of the pole vault. Bennetts cleared a personal best of 15’ 11” while placing fifth in the competition. Concordia led the nation with four qualifiers in the pole vault, which saw Berry share sixth (15’ 5”). Berry is now a two-time pole vault All-American. On the other hand, Cody Williams and Zach Zohner were unsuccessful at jumping the opening height. All in all, it was a solid day for the NAIA’s deepest crew. It outperformed its projected point total.
“It comes down to team effort,” Bennetts said. “Being able to get four vaulters in is huge. We don’t have spectators. There was a lot of brotherhood and cheering each other on and of course, praising God every single step. It gives you energy to keep going. It was a double PR day. No complaints from me, that’s for sure.”
Early in the day, the Concordia 4x400 meter relay took first place in its heat of the prelims. The group featured Cade Kleckner, Jacob Jennings, Henry Reimer and Colton Meyer. They completed the race in 3:23.72 while out-kicking their counterparts from Briar Cliff, Mount Marty and Spring Arbor University (Mich.). The Bulldogs were seeded sixth coming into the meet with a season best of 3:19.01.
The story for Jennings is a fascinating one. He was previously a member of the Concordia Men’s Basketball program and had never competed in a track meet (even in junior high/high school) before this indoor season.
Said Jennings, “I was very nervous beforehand. It’s nice to have these guys with me to help push me. We prayed before the race and that helped. It’s really cool – it’s quiet in here, which is strange. Cade got us the lead to start and we were able to carry that through the whole time … I think this was close to my PR so I’m happy personally. I know the other guys did too. It’s a make-or-break moment. We want to run Saturday.”
Williams, the 2019 NAIA heptathlon runner up, will try to move up the ladder when the heptathlon resumes at 9 a.m. CT on Friday. He currently resides in eighth place with 2,665 points. Broken down by event, the Imperial, Neb., native finished tied for fifth in the high jump, seventh in the long jump, seventh in the shot put and 11th in the 60 meters. Williams totaled 4,956 points in his GPAC title winning performance.
Some confusion took part in a distance medley relay that did not have final results until hours after the event had concluded (due to a camera/timing issue). The Bulldog quartet included Calvin Rohde, Maccoy Menke, Christian Van Cleave and Camden Sesna. All four runners eclipsed or neared season bests, as calculated by Beisel. Due to the timing mishap, the top five relays in both heats were admitted into the finals. Concordia made the cutoff and was awarded a spot in the finals.
A Lincoln Lutheran High School graduate, Meyer returned to the track in the afternoon and clocked in at 52.83 in the open 400 meters (13th place). Meyer fought back from significant injury this indoor season, but missed out on valuable training. He will appear again on Saturday when the finals of the 4x4 take place.
The women’s portion of the meet will conclude on a busy Friday that will showcase the finals of all running events. The Bulldogs put 15 team points on the board on Wednesday thanks to the pole vault national title by Josie Puelz and fourth-place claim by Erin Mapson. The Concordia women will have athletes in seven separate events on Friday while taking aim at another team trophy. Also on Friday, Williams will attempt to nail down an All-America award in the heptathlon.
Friday (March 5) Schedule
· 9 a.m. – Heptathlon wraps up (Cody Williams)
· 9:30 a.m. – Shot Put (Abby Gerber, Elle Luehr)
· 9:30 a.m. – High Jump (Amy Richert)
· 12 p.m. – 400 Meter Finals (Rachel Battershell)
· 12 p.m. – Weight Throw (Olivia Buschow, Morgan De Jong, Sarah Ragland)
· 12 p.m. – Long Jump (Jamey Broman, Katie Severt)
· 1 p.m. – 1,000 Meter Finals (Rylee Haecker)
· 3:25 p.m. – Distance Medley Relay Finals (Rylee Haecker, Sydni Schernikau, Grace Reiman, Kylahn Heritage)
· 3:45 p.m. – 4x400 Meter Relay Finals (Sarah Lewis, Keri Bauer, Jacee Pfeifer, Rachel Battershell)