BROOKINGS, S.D. – Some of the biggest thrills of the entire weekend came on the third and final day of the 2023 NAIA Indoor Track & Field National Championships. Both Kylahn Freiberg and Zach Zohner placed as national runners up within their respective events on Saturday (March 4) as part of the field of 32 Bulldogs to make their way to Brookings, S.D. Nine Concordia individuals officially earned All-America awards on Saturday while pushing the program’s total All-America count to 11 for the weekend.
Head Coach Matt Beisel’s squads came away from the NAIA indoor meet with national place finishes of sixth (28 points) on the women’s side and tied for 31st (10 points) on the men’s side.
“First of all, I have to make sure that God gets all credit and all glory,” Beisel said. “None of the things we accomplished would be possible without Him. This was a meet that had some disappointments – we didn’t get everything we wanted – and it also gave us a bunch of triumphs. We had some unexpected things happen that were phenomenal and some that were sad. Having Josie Puelz win her fifth national title was absolutely astounding … I’m just so thankful for the coaching staff, for (athletic trainer) Kyli (Haines) and for the athletes themselves. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people.”
A day after Josie Puelz claimed the fifth pole vault national title of her career, the vault competition on the men’s side made for compelling drama as each of the top seven athletes cleared 16 feet. Seeded seventh nationally entering the meet, Zohner made a serious run at a national title of his own. The Battle Creek, Neb., native had never before reached 16 feet before hitting on four-straight attempts above 16 feet on Saturday. By the time it was over, Zohner moved his own personal best to 16’ 7” and was the runner up to The Master’s (Calif.) Caleb Pouliot (16’ 8 ¾”).
Zohner had company in the competition from teammates in Zach Bennetts, who placed seventh (16’ 1”), and Chase Berry, who placed ninth (15’ 11”). Bennetts picked up his second career All-America award while Zohner took home his first. The mark of 16’ 7” is the best for a Concordia vaulter in indoor competition since TJ Kloster skyed above 17’ 6” in 2000.
Said Zohner in explaining the groove he found himself in, “I honestly don’t know. I’ve been having some good practices just like Chase and Zach have been. The first few vaults were a little shaky. I was really trying to get my swing going and my legs straight. Somewhere around 16 feet it just started clicking. It just worked out today.”
Freiberg was a bit of an underdog story just like Zohner. After all entries came in, Freiberg was seeded 11th in the 1,000 meters. The Nampa, Idaho, native qualified for finals of the event along with teammate Rylee Haecker. Freiberg found another gear in the finals and sped to a personal best of 2:54.87 (by roughly five seconds) for the third fastest time in school history. While Freiberg placed second, Haecker reeled in her seventh career All-America award with a sixth-place finish in a time of 2:56.66.
This was Freiberg’s final race of her indoor career. It was all she could have hoped for. Said Freiberg, “My first reaction was that I definitely couldn’t believe it because going into it I didn’t have high expectations. I just wanted to give it everything I had and leave it out on the track knowing that it was the last 1k of my college career.”
To cap off the meet, the women’s 4x400 meter relay improved on its prelims time of 3:51.11 and ran 3:48.88 in the finals (third fastest in program history) while placing sixth. As a result, All-America honors went to Jenna Esch, Jordan Koepke, Trinity Tuls and Rachel Battershell. It was the final indoor meet in the college career of Battershell, who has piled up 11 All-America plaques as a Bulldog.
Seeded 18th nationally in the shot put, Abby Gerber far exceeded her pre-meet positioning in claiming a spot on the podium. The Columbus, Neb., native twice surpassed her personal best on Saturday as she busted off throws of 45’ 11 ¼” and 46’ ¾” in the shot put. Those efforts made Gerber an All-American for the first time in what was her fifth career appearance at a national meet. In the same competition, teammate Maddie Robinson placed 18th with a mark of 42’ 8 ¾.” Robinson earned three career All-America awards during her time at Olivet Nazarene University (Ill.).
In other field events contested on Saturday, Hannah Newton (13th; 5’ 2 ¾”) and Amy Richert (no height) competed in the high jump and Darien Semedo (23rd; 46’ 2 ½”) represented Concordia in the shot put. Richert was also a qualifier in the pentathlon while Semedo took part in the weight throw a day earlier.
Assistant coach Jason Berry’s pole vault crew cleaned up with four total All-America awards between the men and women. All eight of the Concordia pole vault qualifiers cleared bars at the national meet. While Puelz seized another national title, Erin Mapson was also an All-American.
Members of the program will enjoy a break before beginning the outdoor season in late March. The first meet on the schedule is the Grand View Viking Relays slated for March 25.
2023 NAIA Indoor All-Americans
· Rachel Battershell – 4x400m Relay (6th)
· Zach Bennetts – Pole Vault (7th)
· Jenna Esch – 4x400m Relay (6th)
· Kylahn Freiberg – 1,000 Meters (2nd)
· Abby Gerber – Shot Put (7th)
· Rylee Haecker – 1,000 Meters (6th)
· Jordan Koepke – 4x400m Relay (6th)
· Erin Mapson – Pole Vault (7th)
· Josie Puelz – Pole Vault (1st)
· Trinity Tuls – 4x400m Relay (6th)
· Zach Zohner – Pole Vault (2nd)