Day 3 Recap: Concordia women take fourth place; 17 Bulldogs emerge with All-America awards

By Jacob Knabel on May. 27, 2022 in Track & Field

RESULTS | Recaps: Day 1Day 2

MEET VIDEO: Concordia T&F YouTube

GULF SHORES, Ala. – For the sixth-straight national meet, the women’s program for Concordia University Track & Field has placed inside the top five of the NAIA. In addition to a fourth-place team trophy for the women, 17 Bulldogs emerged from the 2022 NAIA Outdoor Track & Field National Championships with All-America awards in one or more event. The women achieved yet another lofty national placement on the strength of a national title for Josie Puelz in the pole vault and an NAIA runner-up claim for Jordan Koepke in the 400 meter hurdles.

On the third and final day (May 27) of the three-day meet, 13 Concordia athletes officially added their names to the list of All-Americans. Head Coach Matt Beisel’s squads produced final point totals of 44 on the women’s side and seven on the men’s side (tied for 47th place).

A meet that saw Puelz’s four career national title and new school records in both 4x400 meter relays featured the usual swings of emotions. By the completion of the third and final day, Beisel had plenty of reason to be thankful.

Said Beisel, “We couldn’t have done it without an amazing God that has blessed us, taken care of us and gotten us through a lot of ups and downs. I’m very thankful that I get to be at a university that supports that. I feel ecstatic both for the guys and the girls. There were so many great performances. Like I told the athletes, whether you scored a point or not, you earned the right to be here and you earned what we achieved as a team. I’m just super happy.”

It takes talents like Koepke and Puelz to fuel the type of success the Bulldog women have enjoyed in recent years. Koepke did not wait long at all to become a star on the collegiate scene. The freshman from Gulf Breeze, Fla., placed third in the 600 meters at indoor nationals and followed it up with her national runner up claim in the 400 hurdles on Friday. Koepke ran a time of 1:00.58 while teammate Sarah Lewis finished in a personal best of 1:01.14 and placed fourth. Those 13 team points helped clinch the fourth-place team trophy.

To wrap things up on the women’s side, Koepke and Lewis came back out for the finals of the 4x400 meter relay and joined Rachel Battershell and Jacee Pfeifer on a seventh-place nod in a time of 3:49.86 (a little shy of the school record 3:47.26 from the prelims). It’s quite an accomplished group with 30 career combined All-America awards. For Lewis and Pfeifer, this meet marked the end of their collegiate careers, highlighted by conference championships and so much more.

Said Lewis, “I try not to think about it. It makes me a little emotional. I try to remember that not every moment is given to me. I can’t take it for granted. I just wanted to soak it all in. This week has been a lot of spending time with teammates and playing games and getting food together. We’re not treating it like any other day but just soaking in all the memories. We’re here for God and for His glory. Focusing on those things keeps it a lot more positive and has made it the best possible last year I could have.”

A day after beating the odds and breaking the school 4x4 record on the men’s side, the veteran crew of Jacob Jennings, Cade Kleckner, Colton Meyer and Xavier Ross legged out a finals time of 3:14.35 and placed sixth. All four are multiple-time All-America award winners. It was a fine way to go out for Jennings, Kleckner and Ross, contributors to Thursday’s program standard time of 3:12.59. They wrapped up their collegiate careers on Friday. They persevered through injury to make things happen this week.

Said Ross, “It’s hard to describe. Being a senior, it was my last time and last go-round the track. There were a lot of emotions. If I were to put it into simple terms, it’s just satisfaction. I feel like it’s been a good journey with a lot of hard work and a lot of long hours. I feel like we accomplished what we set out to do. It’s been an awesome time.”

The day got started with the finals of a women’s 4x800 meter relay race that got pushed back due to lightning on the first day of the meet. The Bulldogs ran near the middle of the pack for most of the race while finishing in fourth place in a time of 9:10.00, an improvement of more than five seconds over the prelims finish in 9:15.06. The result was All-America honors for Rylee Haecker, Jenna Esch, Kylahn Heritage and Keri Bauer. A native of Pleasanton, Neb., Bauer picked up the third All-America award in what was the final race of her collegiate career. She was also an individual national qualifier in the 800 meters and ran the team’s fastest split in the 4x8.

Said Bauer, “I’m just so incredibly proud of this group. We came into the beginning of the year with high goals for the 4x8. We came into indoor and placed third (in the NAIA). We just have a lot of thankfulness for that. We brought that into outdoor. We’re competitive and we continued to work as a group and see what we can put together for outdoor. I’m proud of my teammates for how hard they work in practice and outside practice and how they make amazing choices to better themselves and better the teams.”

A sophomore from Davenport, Neb., Haecker has established herself as a star on the track as her personal career All-America count has risen to six. Not only a key cog in the 4x8, Haecker returned to the track mid-afternoon on Friday and clocked a personal best 1,500 meters of 4:36.96 and placed seventh. The GPAC champion in the 1,500, Haecker will have a chance down the road at shooting for Molly Engel’s school record of 4:33.98.

The fourth All-America award of the weekend by a Concordia thrower was pulled in by sophomore Erin Painter, who placed fourth in the discus with a toss of 145’ 7” on Friday. The performance marked the first career All-America award for Painter, an Ainsworth, Neb., native making her second trip to a national meet. Teammates Sara Huss (17th; 137’ 8”) and Alli Owings (21st; 133’ 6”) also competed in the discus. Huss earned 2021 All-America honors in the discus while Owings emerged from this week’s hammer throw competition as an All-American.

In the men’s pole vault competition, all three Bulldogs cleared at least one bar. Two-time GPAC champion Zach Bennetts and second time national qualifier Zach Zohner made strong bids for All-America honors while coming up just short of the podium. Bennetts placed ninth via his clearance of 15’ 9” and Zach Zohner vaulted 15’ 7” and placed 10th. Bennetts successfully cleared four bars and Zohner went over three. Meanwhile, Chase Berry, a two-time All-American, placed 15th. He cleared the opening height of 15’ 1.”

An 11th-place finisher in the heptathlon this week, Amy Richert returned to action on Friday and was unable to get over the opening high jump height of 5’ 2 ½.” This was the fourth career national meet appearance for Richert, a three-time All-American over her first two years as a Bulldog.

Dating back to the 2019 outdoor national meet, the Concordia women’s program has turned in respective NAIA national team placements of fifth, fourth, third, third, third and fourth. Both the men’s and women’s track programs have celebrated national titles in Gulf Shores in recent years (2015 for the men and 2016 for the women).

2022 NAIA Outdoor All-Americans

·        Rachel Battershell – 4x400m relay (7th)

·        Keri Bauer – 4x800m relay (4th)

·        Jenna Esch – 4x800m relay (4th)

·        Rylee Haecker – 4x800m relay (4th); 1,500 meters (7th)

·        Kylahn Heritage – 4x800m relay (4th)

·        Jacob Jennings – 4x400m relay (6th)

·        Cade Kleckner – 4x400m relay (6th)

·        Jordan Koepke – 400 hurdles (2nd); 4x400m relay (7th)

·        Sarah Lewis – 400 hurdles (4th); 4x400m relay (7th)

·        Colton Meyer – 4x400m relay (6th)

·        Alli Owings – hammer throw (7th)

·        Erin Painter – discus (4th)

·        Jacee Pfeifer – 4x400m relay (7th)

·        Josie Puelz – pole vault (1st)

·        Sarah Ragland – hammer throw (4th)

·        Xavier Ross – 4x400m relay (6th)

·        Chris Wren – hammer throw (5th)