Day 3 Recap: Zohner vaults to NAIA title, eight Bulldogs add names to All-America list

By Jacob Knabel on May. 24, 2024 in Track & Field


Day 1 Recap | Day 2 Recap | Concordia T&F YouTube

MARION, Ind. – Just before the rain and thunderstorms engulfed Marion, Ind., Concordia University Track & Field athletes closed the book on the 2024 NAIA Outdoor Track & Field National Championships in memorable fashion. The biggest thrills came from the pole vault where senior Zach Zohner made it a sweep of 2024 NAIA national titles. The native of Battle Creek, Neb., was one of eight Bulldogs who officially became All-Americans on the third and final day (May 24) of the championship meet. The women’s 4x4 capped the festivities by blazing to a near school record time.

National champions Zohner and Chris Wren (hammer throw) led the way for a men’s team that placed seventh nationally with 25 points. On the women’s side, the 4x4 claimed fourth place and pushed Concordia into a tie for 20th place in the final team standings.

“First of all, God is great,” said Head Coach Matt Beisel. “I’m so thankful to Him for this entire year and all the people he’s brought together to make this team and culture what it is. It is all a God thing. Even in the things that didn’t go as well as we wanted, we give Him glory because His timing is perfect. We have such incredible staff, coaches and athletes. We have seniors we’re going to miss dearly as they move on in life and do other things. I’m just very grateful. We had two national champions on the men’s side. Top 10 in the nation as a team is a big deal.”

Zohner took on serious challenges from two other competitors in a heated national pole vault that saw three athletes eclipse 17 feet. Zohner ultimately cleared a personal best of 17’ 2 ¾” while missing on only two attempts until the very final height. Caleb Pouliot of The Master’s (Calif.) also cleared 17’ 2 ¾” but placed second due to a higher number of misses. An All-American at indoor nationals, Concordia’s Mayson Ostermeyer placed 13th (15’ 7”).

A two-time NAIA pole vault national champion in 2024, Zohner rose to No. 3 on the program’s all-time outdoor vault list. The latest title didn’t come easy, which made it a little bit extra special. Said Zohner, “I tried to have one key in my head. I wanted to really settle down my run on my first few steps and get quicker towards the end. I just had that one thing to fall back on when I saw someone else go over a big height.”

On the women’s side, the 4x4 supplied the highest point total. A switch was made on the fly with Isabelle Salters stepping in for Jordan Koepke (an All-American in the 400 hurdles). Collectively, the Bulldogs came through in the clutch. Jenna Esch ran 55.53, Trinity Tuls ran 56.98, Salters ran 58.28 and Kayla Kirchner polished it off by running 56.63. At 3:47.68, the group wasn’t far off the school record of 3:47.26. Five Concordia athletes earned credit for All-America awards in the event.

The Hastings, Neb., native Esch also placed seventh in the 800 meters while running 2:13.86 in Friday’s finals. Said Esch of the 4x4 race, “It was amazing. I told them before, I wasn’t nervous. I had confidence we could ‘All-American’ it. I knew they were all capable of it. We had to believe and whatever happens, happens. We pulled off a season PR and got pretty close to a school record, so we really couldn’t ask for much more. Izzy stepped in and did great. We switched up the order too, and Kayla finished strong for us.”

One more big moment came in the throws as Darien Semedo wound down the meet in the shot put. The Sacramento, Calif., native threw a personal best of 56 feet in the third flight and then increased his mark to 56’ 11 ¾” in the finals. With that toss, Semedo took fourth place and moved all the way up to No. 2 on the program’s all-time outdoor shot put list (behind only Zach Lurz). In addition, Carson Fehlhafer competed in the shot put and placed 20th (52’ 4”).

A fifth year of college competition proved to be a fruitful one for Kylahn Freiberg, who ranks among the top distance runners in program history. The Nampa, Idaho, native put a cherry on top of her career by placing seventh in the 1,500 meters. She ran a school record time of 4:31.08 in the prelims on Wednesday before clocking in at 4:32.07 in the finals. In doing so, Freiberg earned her eighth career All-America award (seven in track; one in cross country).

Said Freiberg, “I wasn’t expecting much, so it’s been a nice surprise for sure. I’m definitely thankful to God that I was able to finish my season on a high note. I was kind of wondering if it was real (in regard to the school record). I was thinking I’d wake up tomorrow and still have to run again. It was unreal.”

Koepke finished the 400-meter hurdle finals in 1:02.21 (eighth place) and earned her seventh career All-America award at the time. The career All-America count grew to eight for both Esch and Koepke after the 4x4. Esch was also part of the 4x8 that ran in the prelims on Wednesday. That group included senior Rylee Haecker, who pulled in 10 All-America awards in her time as a Bulldog.

In additional field events held on Friday, Emma Lloyd threw 131’ 1” (29th) in the discus and Zoey Walker got over the bar at 5’ 3” (24th) in the high jump. Walker earned All-America honors in the indoor high jump in 2024.

The 2024 outdoor season featured another GPAC championship on the women’s side (11th in a row) and a third-place conference finish on the men’s side. Meanwhile, outdoor program records were broken by the women’s 4x200-meter relay (1:40.76), women's indoor 4x800-meter relay (9:06.48), Matthew Boyer in the javelin (219’), Kylahn Freiberg in the 1,500 meters (4:31.08) and 3,000 meters (9:54.40), Rylee Haecker in the indoor 1,000 meters (2:52.88), Adrianna Rodencal in the 100 hurdles (13.65), Calvin Rohde in the 5,000 meters (14:39.56) and Zoey Walker in the high jump (5’ 6”). The men’s program placed in the top 10 nationally for both indoor and outdoor. The women tied for third in indoor and earned a team trophy.

2024 NAIA Outdoor All-Americans

·        Jenna Esch – 4x400m Relay (4th; P – 3:48.81, F – 3:47.68); 800 Meters (7th; P – 2:11.81, F – 2:13.86)

·        Kylahn Freiberg – 1,500 Meters (7th; P – 4:31.08, F – 4:32.07)

·        Kayla Kirchner – 4x400m Relay (4th; P – 3:48.81, F – 3:47.68)

·        Jordan Koepke – 4x400m Relay (4th; P – 3:48.81, F – 3:47.68); 400m Hurdles (8th; P – 1:02.07, F – 1:02.21)

·        Isabelle Salters – 4x400m Relay (4th; P – 3:48.81, F – 3:47.68)

·        Darien Semedo – Shot Put (4th; 56’ 11 ¾”)

·        Gretchen Stottlemyre – Javelin (8th; 136’ 6”)

·        Trinity Tuls – 4x400m Relay (4th; P – 3:48.81, F – 3:47.68)

·        Chris Wren – Hammer Throw (1st; 208’ 5”)

·        Zach Zohner – Pole Vault (1st; 17’ 2 ¾”)