Day 3 Recap: Zohner wins pole vault national title, both teams place in NAIA top 10

By Jacob Knabel on Mar. 2, 2024 in Track & Field

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

BROOKINGS, S.D. – It would have been difficult to script a better weekend than the one enjoyed by members of the Concordia University Track & Field program. Both the women’s and men’s teams claimed top 10 national finishes by the time the dust settled on the three-day 2024 NAIA Indoor Track & Field National Championships (Feb. 29 – March 2) in Brookings, S.D. On the meet’s final day, Zach Zohner seized the NAIA men’s pole vault national title in another mountaintop moment.

Head Coach Matt Beisel’s squads concluded the championship meet with point totals of 42 on the women’s side and 24.5 on the men’s side. The women tied for third and earned a team trophy while the men landed in eighth place. Fifteen Bulldogs won All-America medals in one or more events.

“Looking at the overall picture, the most important thing was that I felt God working in and through our team,” Beisel said. “I just felt God’s presence throughout the meet. I saw a lot of joy and laughter. The performances came out of the training and hard work that we put in – and God answered ‘yes’ to a whole lot of prayers. We some gutsy and gritty performances over and over again. At the same time, tons of laughs and lots of great memories. My heart is full. I was talking with Coach (Mark) Samuels about how performance after performance, the kids were hitting personal bests. That gives us a lot of joy.”

The latest All-Americans on Saturday included not only the national champion Zohner but also mile national runner up Kylahn Freiberg, Jenna Esch (800 meters), Abby Gerber (shot put), Rylee Haecker (1,000 meters), Mayson Ostermeyer (pole vault), Calvin Rohde (mile), Zoey Walker (high jump) and the women’s 4x400 meter relay. Each of the All-Americans from the weekend are listed at the bottom.

The Battle Creek, Neb., native Zohner has been building up to this moment. He stormed onto the national stage a year ago with a runner-up claim. Seeded first in the NAIA, Zohner achieved the ultimate goal with a personal best clearance of 17’ 2 ¾.” As part of the competition, he also went over 16’ ¾” and 16’ 6 ¾.” The runner up wound up clearing 16’ 4 ¾.” Zohner is the men’s program’s first pole vault national champion since Lucas Wiechman accomplished that feat at the 2017 outdoor national meet. It was also a thrilling performance for Ostermeyer, who achieved a personal best of 15’ 11” and placed in a tie for fifth while exceeding his seed mark entering the meet.

The likes of Esch, Freiberg and Haecker were rockstars on the track all weekend for the GPAC championship women’s team. The Nampa, Idaho, native Freiberg took to the track early in the afternoon on Saturday and blazed to a mile PR of 4:54.09 (second best in school history) and earned the second national runner up award of her impressive career. The momentum continued throughout the day as Esch placed fourth in the 800 meters in a personal best of 2:13.54 and Haecker produced a new personal standard and a new school record (formerly held by Kim Wood) by running the 1,000 meters in 2:52.88, good for third place. Esch (six-time All-American), Freiberg (six-time All-American) and Haecker (10-time All-American) were joined by Julie McIntyre on the 4x800 meter relay that won gold on Friday.

On the men’s side, the senior Rohde of Reed City, Mich., realized his goal of becoming an All-American. Rohde shaved a couple of seconds off his mile time from the prelims and clocked in at 4:10.63 (personal best) on Saturday, placing sixth. The performance resulted in Rohde’s first career All-America award. He also ran as part of the national qualifying distance medley relay.

The women’s team tacked on additional points in the field events as Gerber placed fifth in the shot put with a personal best of 46’ 4” and Walker finished eighth in the high jump after she cleared 5’ 6.” Gerber is now a two-time All-American while Walker notched the first of her young collegiate career. In other field events that took place on Saturday, Josi Noble (26th) and Hayley Miles (30th) competed in the triple jump and Darien Semedo (16th) and Carson Fehlhafer (35th) represented the program in the shot put.

Finally, the Concordia women’s 4x4 concluded the meet by running a time of 3:48.14 and placing sixth. That group included Esch, Kayla Kirchner, Trinity Tuls and Jordan Koepke. Esch walked away from the meet with All-America awards in three separate events. Kirchner picked up the first All-America award of her career while Koepke is now a six-time All-American and Tuls is a three-time All-American.

The third-place finish meant that the Bulldog took the podium to accept a team trophy as the meet faded to black inside the Sanford Jackrabbit Athletic Complex. The women’s program has placed third or better in three of the past four NAIA indoor national meets. As for the men, the eighth-place claim marked the program’s best indoor national finish since it was the national runner up in 2017.

Said Beisel, “Each of our athletes chipped away and helped put the pieces together. It doesn’t matter if they scored or didn’t score. What we achieved is everybody’s because everyone is part of the team dynamic that has made a huge impact for us. I couldn’t ask for a better group of athletes, coaches, staff and athletic trainers. It felt like we were able to go and relax and trust in the training.”

2024 NAIA Indoor All-Americans

·        Jenna Esch – 4x800m Relay (1st); 800 Meters (4th); 4x400m Relay (6th)

·        Kylahn Freiberg – 4x800m Relay (1st); Mile (2nd)

·        Abby Gerber – Shot Put (5th)

·        Rylee Haecker – 4x800m Relay (1st); 1,000 Meters (3rd)

·        Kayla Kirchner – 4x400m Relay (6th)

·        Jordan Koepke – 4x400m Relay (6th)

·        Julie McIntyre – 4x800m Relay (1st)

·        Mayson Ostermeyer – Pole Vault (5th)

·        Josie Puelz – Pole Vault (7th)

·        Calvin Rohde – Mile (6th)

·        Trinity Tuls – 4x400m Relay (6th)

·        Zoey Walker – High Jump (8th)

·        Abi Wohlgemuth – Weight Throw (6th)

·        Chris Wren – Weight Throw (2nd)

·        Zach Zohner – Pole Vault (1st)

Looking ahead to 2024 outdoor season, the Bulldogs will get it started on March 23 with the Viking Relays hosted by Grand View University. All roads will eventually lead to Marion, Ind., which will be the host site for the 2024 NAIA Outdoor Track & Field National Championships.